The Problem with Yiyun Li: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

The problem with Yiyun Li is her essential unexcerptability.  One endangers the tight structure of the story, one threatens to reveal the hand, to spoil the gradual unfolding that each story undergoes.  No matter what you pick to show your point, you are in constant danger of overstepping and telling the prospective reader too much. 

This control, this series of well-managed epiphanies that never become formulaic, is the power and the glory of Yiyun Li's work.  Her prose, light and delicate, unfolds to reveal with the blossom of the rose, yet another blossom.  Yes, there is a fractality about her writing that is unmatched in any modern writer.  There is a delicacy and an obstinancy at the same time.  The stories are inevitable just as they are completely surprising.

I have deliberately not finished the book (Gold Boy, Emerald Girl) yet, knowing that once I am through, I am deprived of any new Li until she should deem to grace us with a new work.  The other night, as I picked up the book to take in yet another story, I saw how far my bookmark had progressed and I let out an audible gasp of horror. I looked, incredulous, and wondered how it could be that I had gotten so far without having noticed the passage.  I vowed to slow down and to take my time with the rest of the book.  And yet, there is the inexorable impulse, the desire to wolf down the last third of the book all in a gulp. 

Ah, for more writers who affect me this way.  What sweet sorrow and joy to read another line, another paragraph, another story, knowing that I will soon enough come to the end, and the joy of the new will be gone, leaving only the joy of revisiting all that I had already partaken of.  There is joy here too, but not of the same sort--pleasure, but not the pleasure of the new adventure.


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