Determined to “go out in style,” Boris sets his sights on boarding the Luminous Liminality, a luxury cruise for the terminally ill.
This novel set in the fall of 2015 describes the diminishing life of Boris Schecter, a chronically ill man who lives alone in a suburb outside of Vancouver, Canada in a lavish west coast home built by his late partner Art. When the 68-year-old learns his cancer is inoperable, he considers himself “on God’s hit list.” He counts himself lucky to have had one true-life partner; however, he is convinced that if he could dance at his own funeral and die on the exit ship he will experience the grace he missed in life.
Before being allowed on the cruise, Boris must acquire his expiry date from his doctor—a task that proves more difficult than he’d expected. In his attempt to get his expiry date, he links up with Ms. Luce Gauge, the only passenger ever to return from the Liminality. Mute and reclusive, she subsists in a seaside shack across the US border. Boris visits Ms. Gauge at every opportunity and helps her to get ready for winter.
When Boris invites Ms. Gauge to the Parade of the Lost Souls, she grunts in the affirmative. Ms. Gauge stays the night at his home on the lake and in the morning she speaks for the first time since her expulsion from the ship. She agrees to talk with Boris’s doctor about the cruise.
The story Luce Gauge tells hints that either she is mad or there is something strange about the cruise, something uncanny. Boris is intrigued as he hears that there may be more to the Luminous Liminality than luxury dining and exotic day trips.
Boris worries he will never get on the cruise when Luce storms out of his doctor’s office. Luce and Sam, her daughter, conspire to get Boris’s anticipated death date from the reluctant doctor.
In Boris’s last weeks before the cruise, Luce serves as his death coach: guiding him through his fears, revisiting his favorite spots, and preparing him to leave. Boris, in turn, sparks Luce to deepen communication with her daughter and grandchild.
Boris does get to dance with Luce at his champagne funeral extravaganza. However, attempting closure Boris had invited No Name, his son whom he has never seen or talked with, his son’s mother and her husband, to attend the party.
They don’t show. Boris schedules a visit to them on his way to catch the cruise in Australia. Boris arrives in Austin, Texas with the hope that after twenty-six years he will finally meet his son. Only the husband turns up at the restaurant. Boris’s jealousy for this stranger who married his first love and fathered his child leaves an aftertaste from his exquisite meal. He wanted more, but at least he sends a package to No Name and asks questions about him. The husband encourages Boris to write to his son.
If you have enough money you can buy what you want. Boris’s brother Benn arranged for him to purchase his own stateroom and to alter the ship’s itinerary to add a stop at Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, on Boris’ s expiry date. These unorthodox requests required much negotiation back and forth between Benn and the captain, who needed to pass it by his boss, the Reaper.
Once on the ship, Boris sighs with audible relief. Boris is attracted at first sight to Patrick, a black younger passenger tattooed with the same expiry date as his. Patrick shows Boris the ropes, as he doesn’t want him to fall prey to the captain, who acts as if he were the emperor of this floating kingdom.
At the first port of call, before Boris completely settles in, he challenges his limits with a canoe trip up the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. This adventure is a nod to his dead partner Art, who always wanted the two of them to do this. In arranging the tour, he has his first tangle with the captain, who limits his food ration. Boris puts his life into the hands of his guide for three days. Having tested his mettle by sleeping on the ground, bushwhacking through the jungle, and eating the inedible, Boris returns spirited as a result of having survived.
Boris’s “new life” on the ship, away from the day-to-day world of the living, is made up of the moment-to-moment circumstances of passengers who know that they are dying. Boris sees less of Patrick than he’d like, as Patrick spends time with the captain.
Boris receives a message from his nephew that he’ll meet him at the upcoming stop in Bali with a birthday surprise. Emboldened, he invites Patrick to join the Bali excursion. Claiming that their passports have been “stolen” the captain insists they remain on-board. Foiled, and seething at his competition, Boris makes the best of a bad situation by partaking in the memorials for fellow passengers.
Boris doesn’t want to know what exactly Patrick had to do in order for the captain to allow them to visit Benn in the Buddhist monastery when the ship docks in Kolkata, India. Whatever it took, Boris feels rewarded by the precious visit and the opportunity to introduce his lover to his brother. On their return to the ship, Patrick goes to the captain to appease him and while there is given a package that had arrived for Boris while they were ashore. Patrick delivers the already-opened DVD from the nephew, a movie of what the birthday surprise was to have been—a visit with his son. Boris watches his son on the screen again and again. His health deteriorates. Pain withers his body and his mind. He stays in his stateroom alone choked by the feeling his son wanted to see him, and he lost his last chance.
Once again Boris wrestles with his hostility for the captain. With Patrick’s love, he regains control of his anger by the end of the week, when he reaches his expiry date and the final destination, Haida Gwaii. The captain never wanted to travel this far north, and the passengers are not happy to be in the cold. Luce has timed her visit to the village of Ninstints with her daughter to correspond with Boris’s expected arrival. Boris wants to take Patrick to meet Luce, but Patrick is too ill for the zodiac ride. Boris summons the energy to leave Patrick in order to see his Luce.
Aged cedar totems greet Boris as he lands on the beach where Luce and her family welcome him. He spends a few hours with Luce and convinces her to revisit the Luminous Liminality to meet Patrick.
When they arrive on the ship, Boris becomes completely involved with the abrupt death of his lover. He is distracted by his sadness at the loss and almost looking the other way when his own end arrives. Patrick not only had the beauty to “totally eclipse” Boris’s heart but an identical expiry date, so their ends were to be close together.
Luce approaches full circle as Father Time waits for them both. There is a sense of the death being “communal” rather than individual. Boris, following Luce’s luminous lead, dies with a sense of completion and the certainty that yes, he is on the list.