Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Should We Stay or Should We Go

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver
6/8/21; 288 pages

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended satirical novel featuring twelve alternate universes in which a couple take the time of their demise into their own hands.

After her father dies, Kay Wilkinson only feels relief after helping care for him during his prolonged illness with Alzheimer’s. Kay is a nurse and Cyril, her husband, is a doctor. Between them, over the years they have seen many elderly patients with declining health issues. Kay and Cyril, in their early fifties, discuss what may lie ahead for them when Cyril makes a proposal that they should agree to set the time of their death on their own terms at a time of their choosing. They decide that the time will be when they both reach age eighty.

Three decades later the time of their choosing has arrived and Shriver gives us twelve alternate endings to the story in parallel universes. Each ending features a different choice and a different ending for Kay and Cyril. It is satirical fun. Sure, it is perhaps a bit morbid at times, but still each ironic future for them is vastly different. Some of their outcomes are based closer to reality while others veer toward science fiction. As reading I appreciated the idea that we can't predict the future, what our life will be like, or how we will feel about it when we are there.

The time for Kay and Cyril's exit is to occur in 2020. Shriver, who is known for often including her opinions on current topics in her novels, includes current events in Should We Stay or Should We Go. These include, in part, immigration, cancel culture, the pandemic, political correctness, and Brexit. In a perfect humorous passage, Shriver writes herself into the novel, much to my pleasure and enjoyment: “Please tell me you’re not listening to that Shriver woman,” Kay groans to Cyril. “She’s a hysteric. And so annoyingly smug, as if she wants civilization to collapse.”

The multiple perspectives on multiple timelines was very successful for me. Certainly some of their endings were more successful or gratifying to read than others, but that seems to be the point of the matter. You can't always know the value of your life, what will happen in the future, and what other factors will come into play. Should we embrace exercising free choice or accept what life/fate has to offer? Each alternate ending introduces a whole different set of issues and twists - some good, some awful, some realistic, some implausible - but reading through all of them was enjoyable.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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