First highlighted in The New Yorker fiction issue, here is award-winning writer Nell Freudenberger’s debut story collection
Lucky Girls is a collection of five novella-like stories, which take place mostly in Asia. The characters—expatriates, often by accident—are attracted to the places they find themselves in a romantic way, or repelled by a landscape where every object seems strange. For them, falling in love can be inseparable from the place where it happens.
Living according to unfamiliar rules, these characters are also vulnerable in unique ways. In the title story, a young woman who has been involved in a five-year affair with a married Indian man feels bound to both her memories and her adopted country after his death. The protagonist of “Outside the Eastern Gate” returns to her childhood home in Delhi, to find a house still inhabited by the impulsive, desperate spirit of her mother, who left her family for a wild journey over the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. In “Letter from the Last Bastion,” a teenage girl begins a correspondence with a novelist who’s built his reputation writing about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and who, in his letters, confides in her a secret about his past.
Highly anticipated in the literary community and beyond, Lucky Girls marks the debut of a very special talent that places her among today’s most gifted young writers.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.LUCKY GIRLS: StoriesNell Freudenberger. Ecco, (240p) 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.