The New Yorker: “A Sheltered Woman” by Yiyun Li

CV1_TNY_03_10_14Steininger.inddMarch 10, 2014: “A Sheltered Woman” by Yiyun Li

This is a terrific sketch of a character in a unique situation, but not much of a story.

The woman, Auntie Mei, is a nanny to newborns and their mothers, only sticking around for the first month of the baby’s life. One gets the sense that she doesn’t want to get too attached. In this story, she’s in service to a particular young mother, Chanel, who is difficult. Married to an older man who is away on business, Chanel has, or claims to have, post-partum depression. In the course of the story we learn about Auntie May’s past, and we also see her allow herself to be courted by Paul, the dishwasher repairman who also helps rig up a contraption to keep an egret from eating the goldfish in the husband’s pond.

The writing is lively and Auntie Mei is a great character, but the story itself doesn’t go anywhere. What’s the real conflict here? What’s the outcome?

Be sure to read the Q&A with Yiyun Li for insights into her thinking about this story and also about her recent novel.

About the author


  1. This story just won The Sunday Times Short Story Contest, so I’m afraid it’s more about her double – whammy traits than the writing: a. she’s Chinese (Flavor of the Month) and b. a female writer writing about female characters.

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