“When We Were Happy We Had Other Names”
by Yiyun Li
from the October 1, 2018 issue of The New Yorker
I‘m not much for long titles that try to cleverly ramble a sentence, but at least this is not another variation on “What We Talk About When. . . ” Also, I like Yiyun Li an awful lot, so I’m going to look well around that and see what we have this week. Li’s work receives a mixed response on this site. Part of me understands the criticism, but the other part of me — the part that loves her work regardless — is stronger. I’m anxious to see how this story plays out.
The opening paragraph is certainly intriguing to me, if not one that pulls me right in. And maybe that’s the best way for me encapsulate Li’s work for me. It isn’t immediately flashy, usually comes at me slowly but with great power. Anyway, to the opening paragraph:
The funeral director would be right with them, a woman’s voice said through the intercom when they rang the bell. After standing on the porch for a minute and then another minute, Jiayu and Chris sat down on two wicker chairs, a small round table with a potted yellow chrysanthemum between them. It was a cloudless day, the sky intensely blue. A pair of squirrels were chasing each other on the lawn, and some unseen birds in the trees, which had yet to change colors, made loud noises, a game of hue and cry in the quiet neighborhood. Perhaps the real setting of every Shakespeare play, Jiayu thought, is a wall-less waiting room like this: life as an antechamber to death.
I’m curious what you all think of the story, so please let us know below and have fun with the conversation!