Little gems

Yiyun Li, a UC Davis professor and fiction writer, seems to be on top of the world. She’s been named one of the 20 Under 40, a list of the best American fiction writers, by The New Yorker magazine, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, and was recently named a MacArthur Fellow—which brings with it a cash prize to buy time to write. Li’s most recent short-story collection, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, is a good reminder of why everyone is talking about her. These stories deal with heavy themes like infidelity, suicide and social tensions in modern China, but never take on overdramatic weight or cliché. While her style is reminiscent of short fiction greats like Flannery O’Connor, with sharply drawn characters in a rather moralistic world, Li’s stories achieve a poignant blend of the tragic and the commonplace that is all her own. These are fascinating characters in believable situations in a moving collection.