Yiyun Li’s golden trove of emerald gems
Loneliness beyond words, pain beyond understanding, sadness beyond control. Their “beyond-ness” is what makes them challenging to write and to read. And yet, in her short story collection titled Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li was able to reveal lonely characters in her own words and made them too skin-prickly real, fill the stories with seas of painful experiences for readers to dive in and discover understanding in their depths, and describe the human condition called sadness so acutely one can almost taste it at the tip of one’s tongue, grasp it, and then, perhaps, contain it.
This was my experience within and after reading Gold Boy, Emerald Girl in January, a tearjerker start to my reading experience this year, a serious deviation in my plan to take it easy and, hence, read subjectively easy-to-read books. If anything, the book made me feel too much, from an Asian perspective while living in a country heavily influenced by the Chinese, to the point that I physically and strongly set it aside once I got to the middle of the third short story titled Prison. Then I stopped for a few days, almost ready to give it up. What more can there possibly be? What more can I possibly feel? I already read some sad short stories by Gilda Cordero-Fernando or those found in Manila Noir. But like a person with a tiny bothersome splinter inside a finger that needs to be removed in order to feel relieved, I returned to Li’s stories with a heavy heart and finished them in the same state.
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is, for me, like a crazy love song. I found a slow, long introduction I swayed to in the first story, Kindness, which goes against the principle that no man is an island by showing a character who grows up as a lone island－lone and very lonely. In A Man Like Him, another lonely character tries to share a common ground with another lonely man but to no avail. I thought the story, Prison, is the crescendo of the entire song, this collection of nine short stories, but the others displayed their own firm beat, their own reflections of loneliness.
Prison shows how far a mother will and can do for her child. The Proprietress, a widow, finds her own kind of controlled comfort from the strays of women she houses within her arms. House Fire bands together grandmothers with their own sets of worries to face and solve other couples’ adultery issues. Number Three, Garden Road can be considered a unique love story that poses the striking thought on much space and how many people does one really need in his/her old age. Sweeping Past tells how fragile friendships can be and how easily they can be broken in times of family tragedies. Souvenir reminds people not to easily judge other people because one doesn’t truly know what the other is going through.
The last short story, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, is a singular coming together of three individuals, each lonely in their own ways－either caused by sexual preference, old age, or family circumstances. Its last sentence described it well and all other stories in the collection: “They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.”
My rating: 5/5
Reading Challenge: #DealMeIn2020 (Card: ♥2)
(Photo and text by Nancy Cudis-Ucag. All Rights Reserved.)