Wednesday’s Child: Stories by Yiyun Li
New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2023. 256 pages.
This new collection of short stories by Yiyun Li will only enhance her reputation as one of the foremost fiction writers in America. She has won numerous awards for her work, most recently the 2022 PEN/Malamud Award and the 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award. Readers familiar with her work will recognize her signature style of layered, rich detail, stories within stories, and intertextuality in settings from America, China, and Europe.
The title story, “Wednesday’s Child,” and “When We Were Happy We Had Other Names,” center on the loss of a child by suicide, a frequent subject in Li’s autobiographies. In each, grief gives way to a greater understanding of the meaning of death, “as an antechamber to other lives,” beginning in one place but leading elsewhere. Many stories evoke long lives well lived, as with caretaker Min, once a barefoot doctor in China, and elderly Dr. Ditmus, in “Such Common Life.” Auntie Mei, the childless nanny of “A Sheltered Woman,” has taken care of hundreds of babies. Chinese immigrants like Bella from “A Small Flame” and Min from “A Flawless Silence” must reinvent themselves. Becky in “On the Street Where You Live” redefines the idea of “normal” for her child.
Everyday situations stimulate opportunities for growth. In “Hello Goodbye,” Katie transforms the past to tell her friend Nina better stories. Simply counting angels and animals in the paintings at the Louvre comforts Narantuyaa after her brother Jullian’s death in “Let Mothers Doubt.” What the stranger Walter shares with Suchen in “Alone” may save her. Heroic acts can happen anywhere, on a train or in an email. Every character suggests another as every story encloses another.
Li’s dense fiction weaves together history, memory, and experience. Her use of flashback and flash-forward eclipses time and space, challenging and delighting at every turn.
Center Valley, Pennsylvania