From Publishers Weekly
Freudenberger fulfills the promise of her 2003 collection of short stories, Lucky Girls
, in her expansive first novel. Yuan Zhao, a Chinese performance artist entangled in the subversive community of the Beijing East Village (an artist enclave located in Beijing's "industrial dump"), moves to Los Angeles for an exhibition of his work and to teach studio art to gifted students at the St. Anselm's School for Girls. Upon arrival at the Traverses', his host family, Zhao finds himself in a domestic minefield: Cece Travers, the family matriarch, is having an affair with her brother-in-law, Phil. Meanwhile, her children fumble through adolescence, and her husband, psychiatrist Gordon, phones in his familial obligations. Freudenberger juxtaposes Zhao's early artist days in the East and his unrequited love for the woman he left behind with his solitary life in Los Angeles, where he grows obsessed with a Chinese art student. Under a blanket of cultural misunderstandings and xenophobia, Freudenberger tackles big questions about art: what makes an artist; how artists and writers borrow from each other; and how they appropriate details from the lives of their friends and families. Freudenberger sometimes missteps into humdrum Hollywood satire and uninspired relationship drama, but Zhao is distinctly fresh; it's when describing his journey that Freudenberger's novel takes flight. (Sept.)
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his beguiling first novel centers on a Chinese performance artist and former political prisoner, who travels to Los Angeles to accept a teaching fellowship at a prestigious girls' school. His hosts are a well-off family whose matriarch, Cece Travers, is trapped in a loveless marriage with Gordon, a psychiatrist obsessed with tracing his genealogy back to "the crossing ancestor." A large cast of secondary characters includes Gordon's sister Joan, an accomplished but discontented novelist who stays skinny "by worrying," and his charming but irresponsible brother Phil, who is single-mindedly in love with Cece. Freudenberger demonstrates great talent for capturing the subtleties of cross-cultural and intergenerational relationships, as the dissident's struggles with his past and with his art intersect with Cece's unravelling.
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