Thursday, January 5, 2017
Third week in a row that the New Yorker introduces a new writer
The New Yorker continuing its streak of introducing relatively unknown (at least to me) writers, with an emphasis on world culture, this week w/ a writer named Yiyun Li - a rare two-part introduction for the New Yorker, as in last week's issue she had a nonfiction personal essay about her decision to write in English rather than in her native language (Chinese Mandarin?). It was strange and disorienting essay, moving with apparent ease from straightforward discussion about the difficulty of translation and adaptation (w/ the expected head-nods to others who have made similar transitions, Conrad, Nabokov, some other Chinese writers - no mention of Lahiri and her essay about transitioning to writing in Italian, which would make an intriguing contrast w/ Li) to discussion of deeply personal and upsetting matters, notably her two hospitalizations following suicide attempts. Yikes. Her story in currrent NYer, The Street Where You Live, is equally unsettling and quirky. It starts off with the narrator, a young woman (30ish?) looking at paintings in a museum and fixating on vandalizing one of them. Only gradually do we figure out the setting and the context, and only as the story settles in do we gather that the central point is her relationship w/ her 6-year-old autistic son, who refuses to communicate in school and has no interest whatsoever in friends or in other people, except that strangely he is deeply afraid of being alone. Li tells her story in a series of scenes that don't quite harmonize: visit to a music instructor who works w/ autistic children, chasing a purse-snatcher - and a few odd moments w/ the son, who at 6 speaks with a British affectation: "shant" "I concur." As we read through the story we feel sorrow and pity for mother, son, and even husband, a cardiologist, who is on the periphery of all the action. The parents are desperate to help the child, feel guilt as if his condition may be something that they brought on or caused, and through all this the child insists that he doesn't want help - why should he be interested in other people?, he seems to ask, and that's probably a good question.