Must I Leave

Yiyun Li. Random House, $27 (348p) ISBN 978-0-399-58912-6
Li (Where Reasons End) writes with relentless seriousness about a woman taking stock of her past while living in a nursing home. Lilia Liska, 81, works on annotating the collected letters of Roland Bouley, a Canadian writer, and writing a personal history for her favorite granddaughter, Katherine, while most people around her have “droopy lids and fogged-up eyes.” Despite Lilia’s five children and three marriages, Lilia is a solitary soul, harsh and short with family and strangers. Li presents Lilia’s notes on Bouley—whom Lilia had a brief affair with as a girl that resulted in the birth of Katherine’s mother, Lucy—and Lilia’s writings to Katherine as windows into her interior, and the meandering story is laden with tortuous doses of Lilia’s self-reflection and too-clever bon mots. Lucy’s suicide and the toll it takes on Lilia’s first marriage and Bouley’s lifelong romance with the enigmatic poet Sidelle Ogden provide the story’s emotional anchors, but more often than not, with Lilia and Bouley’s stories confined to remembrances of the past, the love, longing, and loss that they recount fails to materialize for the reader. Li adeptly captures the dreamlike, bittersweet qualities of memory, but misses the color and substance that makes that remembrance worthwhile. (July)
Reviewed on : 04/20/2020
Release date: 07/28/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-399-58914-0
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