Lilia Liska has shrewdly outlived three husbands, raised five children, and seen the arrival of seventeen grandchildren. Now she has turned her keen attention to the diary of a man named Roland Bouley, with whom she once had an affair--the man who was the father of her daughter Lucy. Lilia tells her rather different version of events revealing the surprising, long-held secrets of her past.
Lilia Liska...is a fascinating character, filled with resentment and regret, but compelling enough that the reader is unable to look away ... Lilia is a true original, and Li wisely lets her speak for herself through the bulk of the book as she riffs on Roland’s writing. Li does a wonderful job of letting readers decide how much of what Lilia says is true grit, and how much is the bravado of a proud but wounded woman. Must I Go is a triumph of a novel about how we navigate grief that seems unmanageable.
... a nostalgic, even rather fond, view of the lusty womanizers of yesteryear ... The novel moves between the illicit excitement of Lilia’s assignations and her heartbreak over Lucy’s death, and Ms. Li wisely refuses to contrive any resolution between the two moods. Lilia is grief-stricken yet resolutely without regrets, and the seeming contradiction informs her unforgettably ornery and impolitic view of the world. Must I Go is most bracing in its refusal to apologize for its follies, to perform any acts of literary penance.
Li’s intricate nesting of Lilia’s memories produces a stop-start rhythm that’s sometimes painfully short on momentum, as Lilia casts a withering eye over fellow characters from five generations ... it feels as if we’re eavesdropping, but not in a way that’s especially productive in any dramatic sense. Lilia’s caustic temperament buoys us through the novel’s eddies ... Reading Must I Go sometimes resembles what it must be like to stumble across a cache of personal papers: there’s life here, in spades, but more shape, more compromise, narratively speaking, might have lent more spark. Novels built on memory often fall back sooner or later on suspense, however veiled. That applies here, too, but there are limits to how decently it can be resolved ... If, ultimately, light isn’t shed, perhaps that says less about the book’s flaws than about the trap of viewing suicide as a mystery to solve—an undertaking that may account for several of the challenges here, for writer as well as reader.