Should We Stay or Should We Go follows a couple, Kay and Cyril, through a dozen different scenarios as they look ahead to the end of life. In their fifties, Cyril suggests that they make a pact to commit suicide together at age eighty, or when Kay reaches eighty since Cyril is a couple of years older. They stash the necessary pills in a little black box which they put in the refrigerator, and for many years, neither of them thinks about it very much except to check that it is still there.

Some of the chapters begin with material we have already read earlier in the story, but then the story takes a different turn. In the first chapter, after Cyril makes his proposal to end it all, he immerses himself in the issue of the day, Brexit. He is a Remainer as the “stay or go” mirrors their personal decision. Kay is less than enthusiastic about their plan, but in a perfectly British way, she keeps silent and maintains a stiff upper lip. In fact, “So stiff did Kay’s upper lip become that it was doubtful she could use a straw.” Kay knows that she is beginning to have issues which she has kept from Cyril because she didn’t want him to see her as a “high-mileage, petrol sucking jalopy in need of so many replacement parts that, rather than maintain the old girl, it was cheaper to throw the clunker on the scrap heap and buy a new car.”

In one scenario, their three children stage an intervention to show their parents how far they are slipping, and Kay and Cyrus are shipped off to Close of the Day Cottages where there was not a cottage in sight and the “facility looked more like an Amazon warehouse or a Tesco distribution hub.” What these new residents find inside matches that exterior. First, various things are confiscated:

Cyril’s Swiss Army knife, nail file, fingernail clippers and razor and blades. They also take felt tip pens, a blank notebook, and a laptop. Adding insult to injury, there are no double rooms available, so this couple married for nearly sixty years are given separate rooms. Meals are provided, but lunch consisted of an “undercooked boiled potato and overcooked gray meat [that] were physical inedible, given that the ‘self-harm’ regime allowed her only a blunt plastic spoon.” When they had discussed having to go to a facility, they had imagined one with a library, interesting activities and compatible people. Close of Day is a far cry from what they had imagined.

The novel is so cleverly constructed, well-written and often very funny. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it on and around my birthday, but as Shriver explores end of life issues and concerns from several different vantage points, maybe it is exactly what I needed to read.

Should We Stay or Should We Go is published in hardcover by Harper and retails for $26.99.