20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Yiyun Li, “The Science of Flight,” August 30:

Yiyun Li

Here’s another that seemed to be a big favorite for many people, but for me, was just too boring. The narrator, Zichen, works in an animal care center with two other men that are both (though one doesn’t mean to be) a bit racist and patronizing, though they respect her ability to handle rodents.

Zichen has constructed an elaborate lie for her coworkers, who think that every year she goes to China to visit her parents. In fact, she was born out of wedlock and raised by her grandmother, who ran a barbershop and was always cruel to her. Zichen is an endearing character, but she’s too mopey to be exciting for me.

Li has a novel coming soon, The Vagrants, that looks poised to receive a lot of praise, and she also just received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, so she is obviously respected. But if this story is an indication of her typical style, she’s not the writer for me. Her pacing here is very slow and methodical, and there’s too much family history. I’m bored.


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