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Wednesday's Child: Stories


Wednesday's Child: Stories

When Yiyun Li writes anything, it’s going to have some weight to it. Her new collection, WEDNESDAY’S CHILD, is a heavy tome. It’s short fiction that revolves around her favorite subjects: motherhood, aging, alienation and loss. It represents a culling of the wild and wacky circumstances circa 2023 that have taken reign over the everyday thoughts and activities of people. These are days that test every ounce of one’s energy to emerge from each new misadventure, every jolt of news. No one escapes from the craziness of contemporary life, and Li wants to try to explain why, especially when cultures clash in a time war.

"The men, women and children of WEDNESDAY’S CHILD...try their best to come to grips with whatever Li throws their way. We have to admire them for their fortitude and strength that they move into the unknown future on steady feet."

“According to the picture books, she had missed many things in her childhood --- waving at passing trains, egg-and-spoon races on picnic days, rolling an iron hoop to school and back, dancing around a maypole. It had occurred to her that her granddaughters, whose lives were filled with dancing and singing and gymnastics classes, might miss the same activities, too.” The love of Chinese culture is a river that runs through every page of this book, but the older generations reckoning with what they had to go through as opposed to what these American-born Chinese children have to deal with create a true generation gap.

People work until they stop, they are grateful for whatever they get, and they don’t think much about passion and identity beyond the class structures with which they grew up. This generation has something new --- a chance to make choices, and many more choices on top of that. How does a multigenerational family learn to grow together if they are all at odds in the social climate of this fast-changing world?

Stories like “Such Common Life” and “A Flawless Silence” look at the ways in which identity makes a difference in how older and younger people define themselves to each other. Is there a perfect way to be? To grow up? To be a working person throughout one’s life and still take hold of all the riches that are now available in a tech-driven economy?

These stories were written one by one in the span of a decade. In those years, Li put her expressive and impressive voice to understanding the push and pull of opposite ways of living, loving, opening oneself up to another, and shutting down to protect oneself once again. When do you take chances? How long does it take to get over a serious loss? Are all losses equally serious for each different human experiencing them? In exile or in the process of assimilating, while living or dying, in love or out, 90 years old or nine, what are the tenets of life that fit in the middle of the Venn diagram? Certainly everyone experiences similar rises and falls, but the manner in which they get up (or don’t) seem, at least to Li, to have a football field of options.

In every story, though, there is a sense that the short amount of time we have spent with the protagonist is open-ended. Are there really steadfast determinations for change? Li’s magical sense of possibility leaves her characters still searching at the end of their adventure. With graceful but straight-ahead prose, she pushes each of them forward into yet another period of questioning (perhaps to revisit them in another book 10 years from now).

The men, women and children of WEDNESDAY’S CHILD (remember that Wednesday’s child is full of woe, according to the nursery rhyme) try their best to come to grips with whatever Li throws their way. We have to admire them for their fortitude and strength that they move into the unknown future on steady feet.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 29, 2023

Wednesday's Child: Stories
by Yiyun Li

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374606374
  • ISBN-13: 9780374606374