A fearless writer confronts grief and transforms it into art, in a book of surprising beauty and love, "a masterpiece by a master” (Elizabeth McCracken, Vanity Fair).
"Li has converted the messy and devastating stuff of life into a remarkable work of art.”—The Wall Street Journal
WINNER OF THE PEN/JEAN STEIN AWARD • LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/FAULKNER AWARD • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Parul Seghal, The New York Times • NPR • The Guardian • The Paris Review
The narrator of Where Reasons End writes, “I had but one delusion, which I held on to with all my willpower: We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time by words.”
Yiyun Li meets life’s deepest sorrows as she imagines a conversation between a mother and child in a timeless world. Composed in the months after she lost a child to suicide, Where Reasons End trespasses into the space between life and death as mother and child talk, free from old images and narratives. Deeply moving, these conversations portray the love and complexity of a relationship.
Written with originality, precision, and poise, Where Reasons End is suffused with intimacy, inescapable pain, and fierce love.
This heart-wrenching experimental novel from Li (The Vagrants) is framed as a dialogue between a writer and Nikolai, the teenage son she lost to suicide. The novel's title comes from a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, and poetry is very much on the narrator's mind, along with Alice in Wonderland and Wallace Stevens, as the freewheeling conversation turns toward such subjects as semantics, memory, the mechanics of grief, and a love that is "made not to last." Notably absent is a full reconstruction of her son's suicide (this isn't that kind of book), though readers do get to hear the voice of Nikolai a precocious poet, painter, and oboist. During a conversation with her son, the mother wonders, "What if we accept suffering as we do our hair or eye colors?" Like Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking or Peter Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Li's novel tries to find a language to reckon with the unspeakable reality of death. The novel succeeds in Li's approach of skirting the subject in favor of something between the dead's nostalgia for life and regular small talk. This is a unique, poignant, and tender evocation of life as touched irrevocably by death.