When her father dies, Kay is relieved. For ten years, she watched helplessly as Alzheimer’s ravaged this once decorous man. Her husband of twenty-eight years, Cyril, found his brief exposure to her father’s decline intolerable.
Healthy and full of vitality, both Kay and Cyril, now in their early 50s, fear what may lie ahead for them. One thing is certain: neither wants to die without dignity. To avert a similar fate, they make a pact: on Kay’s 80th birthday they will commit suicide together. Cyril, a doctor, acquires the means they will need to exit the world, a bottle of tablets they keep in black box tucked away in the back of the fridge. Their deal is made in 1991. They will have thirty more years together.
But as time passes and their “final” day approaches, doubts begin to arise.
Lionel Shriver’s highly imaginative and utterly captivating novel unfolds in a series of scenarios that depict various versions of how Kay and Cyril’s unfolding story ends, all with unexpected twists. As these highly imaginative scenarios build upon one another, it becomes clear that trying to control fate is futile. With cool logic, Shriver reveals how the idea of taking charge of one’s final years and saving oneself from the indignities of old age is a fallacy. Contemplating the inescapable end of their lives, Kay eventually discovers that when it comes to the end of life, “real bravery and nobility entails losing everything you love by degrees like everyone else, and dying when you least expect it like everyone else.”
Brilliant and psychologically astute, Should We Stay or Should We Go is Lionel Shriver at her iconoclastic best—a novel that is fascinating to contemplate and impossible to forget.