An Unwilling Elegy

reasons-endNo, it’s not an elegy, I thought. No parent should write a child’s elegy.

I read Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End three years ago. It was hard: I could barely finish it. “Imagine,” I said then. Now, of course, I don’t have to imagine.

I reread it this week, because I’m still always looking for words, and finding some comfort when they are in the shape of my wound.

Two more excerpts.

4.

Days: the easiest possession, requiring only automatic participation. The days he had refused would come, one at a time. Neither my allies nor my enemies, they would wait, every daybreak, with their boundless patience and indifference, seeing if they could turn me into a friend or an enemy to myself.

“I don’t have to live in days,” Nikolai says. “And yet I have to live in days,” his mother replies. Me too.

5.

Words provided to me—loss, grief, sorrow, bereavement, trauma—never seemed to be able to speak precisely of what was plaguing me. One can and must live with loss and grief and sorrow and bereavement. Together they frame this life, as solid as the ceiling and the floor and the walls and the doors. But there is something else, like a bird that flies away at the first sign of one’s attention, or a cricket chirping in the dark, never settling close enough for one to tell from which corner the song comes.

“I am in fiction now,” he says. Yes: but what story? This is the ongoing work.


yiyun-liJuly 2019

Three excerpts from an unwilling elegy.

1.

We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time by words,

2.

How can anyone believe that one day he was here and the next day he was gone?

Yet how can one, I thought. How can one know a fact without accepting it? How can one accept a person’s choice without questioning it? How can one question without reaching a dead end? How much reaching does one have to do before one finds another end beyond the dead end? And if there is another end beyond the dead end, it cannot be called dead, can it?

How good you are, Nikolai said, at befuddling yourself.

3.

You write fiction, Nikolai said.

Yes.

Then you can make up whatever you want.

One never makes up things in fiction, I said. One has to live there as one has to live here.

Here is where you are, not where I am. I am in fiction, he said. I am in fiction now.

Then where you are is there, which is also where I live.

Some books are too hard to write about. Imagine how hard this one was to write: if you think about that while you’re reading it, you might have to stop, as I nearly did. I liked this review by John Self, in the Irish Times. This one by Rachel Veroff in the LARB is good too.

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