by Yiyun Li
from the November 15, 2021 issue of The New Yorker
This week we get a story from one of my favorite masters of the form. Over the past few years, I feel that Li has gone into a challenging space with her personal, wrenching stories and novels. I have not looked into “Hello, Goodbye” at all, wanting to just sit down and let it wash over me with no idea what’s coming. So I’ll just leave us here with the opening paragraph, as per usual, and then hopefully at lunch today I will find some time to sit down and read the whole thing.
Nina held between her hands baby-shaped air, her left hand supporting an unseen head, heavy for the supple neck, her right hand patting. She had read somewhere that an infant found it calming when the mother’s patting matched her heartbeat.
That’s a bit of a painful opening, again considering where Li’s work has been lately, but it appears Nina is playing a game of charades or something similar, so the tone eases substantially in the next line.
Alright, here we go! More Yiyun Li to start the week. I hope you’re all having a good November so far, and please let me know below what you think of the story.
A good story, well written, but not interesting to me. Gender gap?
For the first 2/3 or so this seemed a bit like generic bourgeois realism with a lightly ironic 3rd person narrator anatomizing the characters and locating them within their socio-cultural milieu. The COVID references just added to this effect. In the last 1/3 though it opens out into some deeper and more philosophical about what degree of agency in our lives we may actually have. Through a few stories told between the two main characters we ponder the idea of whether we can do the “right” thing or must simply go forward on impulse and bravely hope for the best.
Her early work excited me more. This was an ok story.