August 26, 2013


By Yu Hua
Translated from the Chinese by Allan Barr
~5400 words

A woman craves a confrontation with her cheating husband.

After discovering a key hidden in her husband's dresser while he is away traveling, Lin Hong snoops out the lock it opens, in Li Hanlin's desk at work, where she finds two pictures of a woman she assumes he's having an affair with. When he returns home she confronts him about it, but he insists the relationship never went beyond a kiss. Unsatisfied, Lin Hong desires to humiliate Li Hanlin until he begs forgiveness, but he responds in such a passive way that it stymies all her efforts. Finally the couple decides to divorce, and on the way to the registry office they enter a coffee shop for a last drink together, where the husband's mistress is seated, providing Lin Hong with the opportunity for vengeance she has been craving.

The story starts off well. The discovery of the key, wrapped inside three envelopes, sets up a bit of mystery, and Lin Hong's emotions are well portrayed. But ultimately I did not find her to be a sympathetic character, which is key for me in a good story. I also thought the perspective was muddled. The story is clearly about Lin Hong, so why let the POV drift so frequently — and to no apparent purpose — into that of her husband? There are also a few logistical details that just don't make sense. For example, Lin Hong sees two pictures of her husband's mistress, but when she finds her in person the coffee shop in the final scene, it seems that she recognizes her more through a process of deduction ("put two and two together").

Yu's language feels week, almost voiceless, which may have something to do with the translation. I wonder, too, about the sentence "She was making inroads into their savings." It's clearly meant in a negative way, as in "She was eating up their savings," but doesn't the phrase "to make inroads" normally have a positive connotation?

Finally, if you're going to base a story on a cliché like "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," it seems like you'd want to find some original ways to tell it. Unfortunately Yu Hua doesn't show us many, with the possible exception of the ending, which at any rate comes too late to redeem this piece.


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