Nell Freudenberger knows from lucky girls. She has had a lot of luck herself in her short writing career: Her debut story was featured in The New Yorker
, with a glossy full-color author photo alongside; a quick book contract ensued, on the strength of that one published story; and now comes a debut collection full of stories that are actually good. The Lucky Girls
collected here are far-flung Americans, young women trying to figure out where they belong in the world. In "The Tutor," teenage Julia and her businessman father are living in Bombay; her mother has returned to the United States. Julia crams for the SATs with her tutor Zubin, smokes cigarettes, and goes to nightclubs; her father hovers at home. Freudenberger gets just right the moments when Julia and her father find themselves alone together, trying to be a family: "It was just the two of them at the table then; even with the leaves taken out and stored against the wall in the coat closet, they had to half-stand in order to pass the soup." Too, she knows the upper-class world of which she writes. In "The Orphan," Mandy's parents and brother come to visit her in Thailand, where she is working with "AIDS babies." Mandy's brother Josh appears, and Freudenberger skewers his type, neatly, in a sentence: "Josh looks like someone coming out of trench warfare in the Balkans, rather than college in Maine." But Freudenberger isn't telling easy rich-kid stories. She's forever pushing her narration. In "The Tutor," we hear from Zubin, an overeducated Indian, as well as from Julia. "The Orphan," in turn, is told by Mandy's mom, a woman bewildered by yet proud of her daughter's choice to remain in Thailand. Freudenberger's stories are cosmopolitan, expansive, and richly detailed, a beguiling combination of qualities. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Freudenberger saw her first story, "Lucky Girls," published in the New Yorker's 2001 debut fiction issue and subsequently received a reported six-figure sum to round out the collection with a bunch more (at that time unwritten) works. The gamble has paid off, at least from a critical perspective: the five long stories in this collection are thoughtful and entertaining. Most take place in Asia and feature Americans living abroad. In the title piece, a young American painter recalls her long affair with a married Indian man. The man has died unexpectedly, and the story traces the development of the narrator's antagonistic yet moving relationship with the mother of her late lover. "The Orphan" is a witty story of a middle-aged couple who, along with their college-age son, go to Thailand for Christmas to visit their daughter and break the news of their impending divorce. The daughter, who works at a Bangkok hospital for orphaned AIDS babies, finds her parents benighted and so... Western, while her brother announces that he belongs to the Cool Rich Kids club, whose members seek to give their parents' money away ("it's this chance to endorse the more radical causes that people your age wouldn't support"). In "The Tutor," a romance blossoms between an Indian SAT coach and a Prada-wearing American teenager living in Bombay who wants nothing more than to get into UC-Berkeley. Many of these tales concern the slow birth and disintegration of romantic relationships, although some lack pull, due to their one-dimensional characters. Freudenberger is more inventive and piquant when she probes characters' relationships to their adopted homelands-which, she shows, are often more passionate and grounded than their ties to the people in their lives.
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