“On the Street Where You Live” by Yiyun Li

Photo-Illustration by Hannah Whitaker from The New Yorker

My turn to choose a published piece arrived and I hadn’t read any short stories I especially liked lately, so I turned to my go-to–The New Yorker–wondering if I’d find something I hadn’t read yet by one of my favorite short story authors, Yiyun Li. Ta da! This week we are reading “On the Street Where You Live,” in which Li explores themes of motherhood and loneliness through a protagonist musing about her autistic son.

YiYun Li is a Chinese American author whose novels and short story collections have garnered numerous awards and been published in more than twenty languages. She is currently a contributing editor to A Public Space.

Questions to consider while reading:

  1. How does Li explore “ordinary” versus “unusual” in this story? Does Becky indeed know what “normal” is?
  2. Becky says, “You can’t share with others who your child truly is.” To what extent do you think Becky knows who Jude truly is? What techniques does Li employ to illuminate this?
  3. Consider the way Li moves from scene to scene, and the way she has framed Becky’s internal monologue with people, places, and events/actions. How does she accomplish fluidity? What effects do these things have on your overall experience of the story?
  4. Li’s commentary on race is subtle but present. How does it complement Becky’s predicament?
  5. When Becky hears William singing, she “felt furious […] at herself too, for being there, a witness to a crime, an accomplice, really.” Later in the story, she is victim to a different–“normal”–type of crime. What is Becky’s crime? How does Li use the moments to underscore the meaning of the story?
  6. Becky says, “The only option was to blunder on through hoping.” Would you consider this story to be hopeful? Why or why not?
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