Where Reasons End belongs to a band of books produced in the forge of intense pain; their authors, aristocrats of suffering—think of The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, Joan Didion’s memoirs of the deaths of her husband and daughter in close succession ... For Li, to apply her own language to suicide means to understand suicide as the most private of decisions, to address it without cheap sentiment or condemnation ... As the title alerts us, this book takes place in a territory beyond reason, in all its connotations—beyond explanation or understanding. The mother does not require them.
A beautifully written book that runs a quizzical eye over the urge to deal with sorrow by writing beautiful sentences, it’s closer to the essays gathered in Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life—which deal, by way of Li’s interest in certain Russian and Irish writers, with an experience of suicidal depression—than it is to her more self-effacing novels and short stories ... Nikolai emerges in vivid fragments ... Some of the writing is sharply aphoristic, and there are some hair-raising sentences ... Some readers, she knows, will interpret these dialogues as symptoms of 'insanity or religiosity,' not as high-wire acts performed over an unimaginable drop. The tone is hushed, domestic, affectionate, with no Dostoevskian scenery-chewing or Tolstoyan efforts to nail down the meaning of life. All the same, you get a sense—as one of Coetzee’s characters says of the Russian masters—of being brought to a 'battle pitched on the highest ground.'
Where Reasons End is a book-long conversation between mother and reimagined child: it is a work, in a sense, of denial ... yet even in its raw subjectivity there is a costiveness that is far from the open candor of [Li's previous book] Dear Friend ... Their conversation [the narrator and son Nikolai's], being private and particular, leaves the reader with a sense of intrusion ... While Where Reasons End succeeds neither as fiction nor as autobiography, it achieves something perhaps more valuable: a glimpse of a woman artist struggling, in life, to align herself with the truth ... Where Reasons End is a work of respect, the kind of respect few parents are capable of feeling for their child. Li is a far-more-than-good-enough mother.