Many might be tempted to sum up J. Michael Straczynski‘s new novel Together We Will Go as a story about suicide. They wouldn’t be wrong… but they wouldn’t be entirely right either. Such a description is woefully inadequate for a modern-day masterpiece.
A young failed writer named Mark has decided it is time to end his life. But since he is sure others share the same feeling, he puts out a personal ad inviting such folks to join him on one last road trip, one last hurrah before driving the bus and everyone still on it off the San Francisco cliffs in a final blaze of glory and defiance. Others join this cross-country death party and add their stories to the onboard server in the form of journal entries, audio recordings, and text messages, giving us insight about their personal histories, backgrounds, and reasons for choosing to exit stage right. None of those decisions are frivolous, none of them have made this decision lightly, and it creates a very powerful conflict in the reader. As I came to know these characters, I empathized more and more with them. I found myself rooting for them to complete their journey… but at the same time, I also desperately wanted them to find reasons to get off that bus.
I can’t remember the last time I had so many intense conflicting emotions while reading a book. And I think part of that is because all of the characters were me. I could empathize with all of their reasons for choosing to end their lives. I saw pieces of myself in each of their stories. I am an over-educated, underpaid Millennial who has struggled with chronic depression, suicidal ideation, and once instance where I probably would have killed myself had the tools been handy. I have friends in the same ago bracket who face the same struggles, as well as other forms of physical, mental, and emotional agony. So for me, Together We Will Go hits very close to home.
But this is not a depressing book. In a way, it’s oddly uplifting at the end of the roller-coaster of emotions. Granted, I was sobbing by the halfway mark, but Together We Will Go also contains a fierce commitment to joy. Because these people know their days are numbered, they bond in a very deep, authentic way that allows for trust and acceptance and support many people never feel. They shake off the artificial constraints that have been placed on them by themselves and society. This doesn’t lead to a violent purge lashing out against other people, but rather taking chances and opportunities that were denied or frowned upon. (Yes, one of those opportunities does involved breaking things, but no one gets hurt and not everyone participates for the same reasons, if at all.) Some of them find love and acceptance for the first time. Some manage to face down their personal demons. Some take moments to just sit still and appreciate the small, fleeting, infinitely precious “one moment of perfect beauty.”
Together We Will Go is a story about suicide. But it’s also a celebration of life, a rage against confinement, an ode to beauty, an examination of prejudice, and an affirmation of the importance of choice. There is so much more I want to say about this novel, but I can’t because I don’t want to spoil this brilliant, heartfelt journey. The funny thing is that I might never have embarked on it because realistic fiction isn’t my usual genre of choice, let alone a story featuring suicide. But JMS has never let me down with his authentic and insightful yet entertaining depictions of humanity in his other works, so I decided to trust him and read this book.
I am so very glad that I did, and I hope you will as well.