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.
Where [Li's] previous book is stripped down, a bundle of exposed nerves, Must I Go is upholstered with the nested narratives, intricate back stories and details of a historical novel. For all their differences, their concerns are knotted together. They reach into realms that the author and characters feel are unspeakable ... They are among the loneliest books I’ve ever read—if they are merely books. At times they seem more like ruins; the chipped sentences and broken structures let you see all the devastated, discarded certainties ... Little happens, but I’ve always found the openness, the near shapelessness of Li’s work to be part of its beauty. Her characters are never coerced; they are patiently observed, they are allowed to live, allowed to disappoint ... The new book is bloated and unwieldy, however; it lacks the blunt power of its predecessor, which was stark and swift, flensed of artifice. There is a strange feeling of watching Li retreating into a form and narrative structure she has outgrown and outpaced.