Should We Stay or Should We Go

"Even before agreeing to leave this world hand-in-hand on 29 March 2020, Kay and Cyril Wilkinson had long embraced the commonplace romance that if one of them died, the other would soon follow." Kay and Cyril committed to this "modest proposal" in October 1991: to guarantee they die with dignity, they will commit suicide on Kay's 80th birthday.

In her 15th book, Lionel Shriver (The Motion of the Body Through Space) repeats the literary structure of her 2007 The Post-Birthday World, here writing 12 alternative storylines whose (literal) "endings" evoke widely varied emotions.

The title Should We Stay or Should We Go forecasts Cyril and Kay's ambivalence in the parallel universes Shriver creates. Likable, sympathetic characters (even though Cyril, as a doctor, secured the lethal stash of Seconal, the couple's vision was mutual), their personalities remain consistent throughout. Philosophical Kay ponders "what it means to be alive in the first place," while Cyril is "all brutal brass tacks" and pledges his final time on earth to defeating Brexit. One version features a slip-up, in which Kay "goes" while Cyril stays; in another scenario, Kay discovers a surprising post-Cyril life. One disconcerting episode has the Wilkinson children discovering the plan and enforcing a "house arrest," followed by relocation to the draconian Close of Day Cottages. Shriver's speculation extends to the political and technological: when "Retrogeritox" grants eternal youth, Kay eventually bemoans the passivity of "unbridled freedom." Alternatively, by the year 2039, migrants and anarchists overrun Great Britain, or asylum seekers enrich a peaceful, multicultural nation. Sometimes discomfiting, often hilarious, Kay and Cyril's 12 stories consistently reflect their mutual love and commitment. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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