Yiyun Li On Her ‘New Yorker’ Short Story

Yiyun Li on How We Remember the Dead

The author discusses “Wednesday’s Child,” her story from the latest issue of the magazine.

By Cressida Leyshon

This week’s story, “Wednesday’s Child,” opens in Amsterdam’s central train station, when the protagonist, Rosalie, is trying to catch a train to Brussels that keeps being cancelled. What kind of mind-set does that put Rosalie—or any traveller—in?

I often imagine that our urge to travel is to strive for a stretch of time that is not entirely connected to the past or the future while we move from one place to another. It’s not the usual setting of life but a suspended time, framed by an ever-changing—and less familiar—physical space. And here Rosalie, stranded at the train station, experiences the opposite: physical movement is momentarily suspended, while the past is brought closer by her reading her notebooks on the platform, and, later, by a chance encounter in the train car.

A railway worker explains that there had been an “incident” on the line. A man has walked in front of a train, he says. We soon learn that Rosalie isn’t just any traveller — her daughter, Marcie, killed herself in a similar manner. Can a train station ever feel like an ordinary place to her?

Later in the story, Rosalie thinks about the passengers on the train that was delayed by her daughter’s death. She then pauses her thought. “Imagined scenarios are no more than a litmus test of the imaginer’s life,” she states. I don’t imagine that the train station feels like an ordinary place for Rosalie, as it may do for most passengers, and yet those passengers may have something else—a cloudless morning sky, a jingle on the radio, or a special brand of fragrant soap—that has been made extraordinary by events in their past. Going through life, we each carry our own litmus tests. Read the full interview at the New Yorker.

© Literary Affairs, 2005-2023. All Rights Reserved.