A new collection—about loss, alienation, aging, and the strangeness of contemporary life—by the award-winning, and inimitable, author of The Book of Goose.
A grieving mother makes a spreadsheet of everyone she’s lost. Elsewhere, a professor develops a troubled intimacy with her hairdresser. And every year, a restless woman receives an email from a strange man twice her age and several states away. In the stories of Wednesday’s Child, people strive for an ordinary existence until doing so becomes unsustainable, until the surface cracks and the grand mysterious forces—death, violence, estrangement—come to light. Even before such moments, everyday life is laden with meaning, studded with indelible details: a filched jar of honey, a mound of wounded ants, a photograph kept hidden for many years, until it must be seen.
Yiyun Li is a truly original writer, an alchemist of opposites: tender and unsentimental, metaphysical and blunt, funny and horrifying, omniscient and unusually aware of just how much we cannot know. Beloved for her novels and her memoir, she returns here to her earliest form, gathering pieces that have appeared in The New Yorker, Zoetrope, and other publications. Taken together, these stories, written over the span of a decade, articulate the cost, both material and emotional, of living—exile, assimilation, loss, love—with Li’s trademark unnerving beauty and wisdom.
“A skilled impressionist, Li juxtaposes sensuous images . . . with aphoristic daggers . . . The tight scope of the stories keeps sentimentality at the fence, and the real lives of the characters in quarrelsome proximity . . . [Wednesday’s Child] reminds the reader that the best short fiction, even when it comments on the world at large, operates most powerfully on the level of the individual characters.”
—Kathleen Alcott, The New York Times Book Review
“What is markedly unusual about Ms. Li’s writing is that it rarely sinks into despair. Despite their background matter, the stories burble along with a facade of affability, cheerfully documenting the interactions of everyday routines . . . Ms. Li’s art is in revealing glimpses of the shadows underneath it without hauling them to the surface, like darkness glimpsed beneath a crust of ice . . . In this strange and distinctive collection, garrulity is a cover for a deeper speechlessness and hope is a disguise for fatalism.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Li’s career has spanned several mediums since then: a memoir of her life as a reader and several novels, including last year’s PEN/Faulkner-winning The Book of Goose. But these moments of genuine and surprising closeness — between estranged friends, between 19th-century writers and their contemporary readers, between care workers and new mothers, between mothers and their tragically lost children — appear throughout . . . One of the most affecting ways to reverse [harm]: to tell a story."
—Maddie Crum, Vulture (Best Books of 2023)
“This new collection of short stories by Yiyun Li will only enhance her reputation as one of the foremost fiction writers in America . . . 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 . . . 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.”
—Elizabeth Fifer, World Literature Today
“Many of the pieces centre on the painful unspooling of memories as life continues . . . In Wednesday’s Child, death is everywhere, sudden and awful . . . Against the backdrop of threat, Li’s characters meditate coolly on meaning and mortality.”
—Anthony Cummins, The Observer
“Li affords her characters a unique sort of dignity, not belittling their grief as something to be neatly solved in a clever plot point . . . There’s something timeless to many of the stories here . . . [Li’s] once again shown us why she’s remained such a treasured guide to the lands of grief over the past twenty-plus years.
—Ian J. Battaglia, Chicago Review of Books
“Li is a master at understanding human emotion, but her tenderness never gives way to sentimentality . . . Gorgeous prose and painstaking attention to detail . . . makes these stories so beautiful, so accomplished. This is a perfect collection by a writer at the top of her game, and a heart-wrenching look at how loss changes not only the bereaved, but their entire existence.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR
“Quiet, subtle and often agonisingly wrenching . . . Li explores the brittle fractures within the human heart. . . Parents, children, the fragility of life, the difficulty of surviving deep wounds—Li lays this territory bare with sympathy and without a shred of sentimentality . . . Piece by piece, this collection becomes a shimmering meditation on bad luck, on accidents and fleeting moments in time. Lives are changed and hearts shattered. But it also touches on unexpected connections and the strangeness of love, and the faint possibility of hope that can be found in old songs or books, in art or conversations with strangers.”
—Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
"[Li’s] prose . . . is so elegant and thoughtful you don’t immediately notice it when she pulls the rug out from under you in this collection of dreamy, devastating stories.”
—Patrick Rapa, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Each story here is as strong as the other; it’s impossible to pick favorites . . . this collection [is] perhaps [Li’s] most compelling yet.”
—Susan Blumberg-Kason, Asian Review of Books
“This return to short fiction . . . should remind those not already passing copies of The Vagrants along to their friends like they’re introductory leaflets to some secret society why they fell in love with Li in the first place.”
—Allen Charles, The Millions
“A collection of short fiction with unexpected power, though its economy is no surprise: Li’s elegant prose gives no quarter to the superfluous . . . [Li’s characters are] all achingly real and needy and yet mysterious in the ways we humans always are to each other.”
—Bethanne Patrick, The Los Angeles Times
“When I read Yiyun Li’s fiction, I never wonder why things are as they are in the world of the story or novel . . . Things are included because they are so. They are true. There’s no arguing about life, and that is my experience of reading the work: it is always surprising, and it could never be any other way.”
—Elizabeth McCracken, Electric Literature
"Few writers tackle the way grief reverberates through our lives with Li’s frankness, tact, and humor."
—Jasmine Vojdani, Vulture
“Breaks may be required between these 11 stellar stories, both to absorb the brilliance of Li’s prose and to honor the breathtaking heartbreak trapped within . . . [An] exquisite collection . . . Storytellers become lifesavers—ironically, tragically, even of the dead.”
—Terry Hong, Booklist (starred)
“Splendid and elegantly observed . . . Distinguished by their fully realized characters, nuanced narration, and striking portraits of everyday struggles, these stories find Li at the top of her game.”
—Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
“An infinite variety of ways to survive—or, at least, march through—devastating loss are cataloged in Li’s cool and measured litany of pain . . . The cumulative mass of the stories is sobering, a gorgeous almanac . . . Quiet, beautiful accounts of journeys through hell.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)