Reviews

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Is it a good idea to kill yourself before you become elderly and burdensome? Shriver considers the possibilities. After more than a decade of often sour, scolding fiction, Shriver has written her best novel since The Post-Birthday World (2007), in no small part because it revisits that book’s alternate-timeline conceit. In 1991, Kay, an interior designer, and Cyril, a physician with Britain's National Health Service, are dispirited by the death of Kay’s father from dementia. So they agree that on Kay’s 80th birthday, in 2020, they’ll take fatal doses of Seconal. In successive chapters, Shriver imagines a dozen ways this plan plays out, or doesn’t. Kay has second thoughts and is struck dead by a delivery van anyhow; or Cyril does and meets a similarly dim fate. Elsewhere, they decide to play out their dotage in a spendy retirement home, or their children discover the plan and have the couple banished to a dismal institution. More wildly, Shriver imagines scenarios in which a drug for immortality is discovered or the couple enter a cryogenic deep-freeze and reemerge to a transformed human race or suffer in a dystopian England overrun by migrants. Shriver is still Shriver, using her characters to grumble about Brexit, Covid, monetary policy, and political correctness. (“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.”) But a novel with multiple tendrils means she doesn’t get locked into one point of view, and, as in The Post-Birthday World, the multiple perspectives produce a tender and complex portrait of the central couple. Mortality, Shriver finds, needn’t be morbid; one of her imagined futures is downright pleasant and testifies to humanity’s adaptability. It reads a bit awkwardly, but that'll happen when a writer tries something new. A return to form, merging Shriver’s better instincts as both novelist and social critic. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Watching their elderly parents die painful, undignified deaths, Kay and Cyril Wilkinson find themselves contemplating what their own future might hold. Cyril is a respected physician with Britain’s NIH; Kay, is a competent, if not passionate, nurse. With ready access to the proper drugs, Cyril proposes a pact: on the evening of Kay’s eightieth birthday, several decades hence, they will down a handful of pills and end things on their own terms. That their plan intersects with the UK's Brexit debacle and the COVID-19 pandemic makes it sharply ironic. Call this Shriver’s “13 Ways of Looking at Mortality,” for in each of those chapters she hits the reset button to imagine all the ways Cyril’s scheme might conceivably play out: One spouse dies, one doesn’t; fate intervenes via random traffic accidents; the Wilkinsons chose to live, then either luxuriate in a posh seniors’ enclave or struggle in a depressing elder warehouse. Confronting one’s own demise is always a daunting exercise, but for those with more miles behind them than ahead, the notion of controlling one’s exit strategy can be an intriguing diversion from the humiliations of illness, infirmity, and irrelevance. An acute and wily satirist, Shriver handles a delicate subject with wry humor, reassuring sensitivity, and bracing realism.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Shriver (The Motion of the Body Through Space) delivers on a high-concept premise full of alternative narratives based around themes of illness and aging. In 1991, over a “fateful sherry,” Londoners Cyril and Kay Wilkinson, both still in perfectly good health, make a pact to end their lives when they turn 80 (she, in 2020; he, in 2021). There is no satire or irony in Cyril’s Swiftean “modest proposal,” as Shriver terms it. Rather, they’re propelled by watching Kay’s parents linger through years of dementia, going from “deterioration” to “degradation” toward an intolerable decline that they don’t want for themselves. Shriver tackles the next decades until their “use-by” date with her usual aplomb, offering 12 alternate scenarios. (It is not a spoiler to reveal that in some instances they live well beyond their 80s.) Years progress from the “surprising to the implausible” to the “incredible” and the “impossible” as the Wilkinsons balk and consider every possibility from assisted living to cryogenics, debating the free choice to end one’s life and the purpose or value of living. There is sometimes outlandish humor and periods of magical thinking in their dialogue, all rendered to brilliant effect. Readers will be entranced by Shriver’s freewheeling meditation on mortality and human agency. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (June)


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

New York Times best-selling and famously punch-in-the-gut author Shriver returns with the story of a couple who vow to commit suicide together on the wife's 80th birthday. As the fateful day approaches, they begin to reassess the wisdom of their decision and acknowledge that the frailties of old age are intimately wound up with its gifts. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Back