Wednesday's Child

Yiyun Li

Wednesday's Child
HarperCollins Publishers
United Kingdom
30 August 2023

Wednesday’s Child

Yiyun Li

A dazzling new collection of short stories written over a decade, spanning loss, alienation, aging and the strangeness of contemporary life - from Yiyun Li, the prize-winning author of The Book of Goose.

A grieving mother makes a spreadsheet of everyone she's lost. 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 Yiyun Li's stories, people strive for an ordinary existence until doing so becomes unsustainable, until the surface cracks and grand mysterious forces - death, violence, estrangement - come to light. And even 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.

Li is a breathtakingly original writer, an alchemist of opposites: tender and unsentimental, metaphysical and blunt, funny and horrifying, omniscient and yet acutely aware of just how much we cannot know. Beloved for her novels and memoirs, she returns here to her earliest form, gathering short stories and a remarkable novella never before published in the UK. Taken together, the stories in Wednesday's Child articulate the true cost of living with all Li's trademark unnerving beauty and searing wisdom.


It’s hard to believe that the 11 stories that make up Wednesday’s Child were written over a span of 14 years. Yiyun Li has made them feel as if they belong together, as if they were written to exist together as a complex curation of grief, motherhood, girlhood, and the alienation that arises from immigration, marriage, and loss. Such is the talent of Li, that these individual stories can feel interconnected, like each story knows the others intimately, conversing with each other across time and space.

In the titular story, a mother travels across Europe in the wake of her teenage daughter’s suicide. In ‘A Sheltered Woman’, a “one-month nanny” works for parents for the first 30 days of their newborn’s life, not a day less, not a day more. In ‘All Will Be Well’, a woman fixates on a hairdresser, returning for haircuts more often than needed so that the hairdresser can tell her stories about the boy she never married.

Coming off the back of her stellar, indescribable The Book of Goose, which was my favourite read of last year, eager fans should note that Wednesday’s Child is not to be entered into lightly. Li has lived a lot of what she writes about, and for this reason the stories featuring a grieving mother can be profoundly sad, and potentially triggering. This is, however, where I think Li’s growth and courage can be seen; having read her 2019 novel, Where Reasons End, and thinking it a touch too raw for the emotions to be fully conveyed, I felt the full force of Li’s emotions in this collection, as if they were a ghost on each page. To make the incomprehensible reality of grief comprehensible for a reader could only be the result of unbelievable amounts of introspection and skill. Wednesday’s Child is the mark of a writer unafraid of staring into life and death’s eyes, and the unrivalled ability to transcribe what she sees there, so that we might understand the unthinkable.

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