Lucky Girls

Lucky Girls

2.8 9
by Nell Freudenberger
     
 

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Here are five stories, set in Southeast Asia and on the Indian subcontinent -- each one bearing the weight and substance of a short novella -- narrated by young women who find themselves, often as expatriates, face to face with the compelling circumstances of adult love. Living in unfamiliar places, according to new and often frightening rules, these characters become

Overview

Here are five stories, set in Southeast Asia and on the Indian subcontinent -- each one bearing the weight and substance of a short novella -- narrated by young women who find themselves, often as expatriates, face to face with the compelling circumstances of adult love. Living in unfamiliar places, according to new and often frightening rules, these characters become vulnerable in unexpected ways -- and learn, as a result, to articulate the romantic attraction to landscapes and cultures that are strange to them. In "Lucky Girls," an American woman who has been involved in a five-year affair with a married Indian man feels bound, following his untimely death, to her memories of him, and to her adopted country. The protagonist of "Outside the Eastern Gate" returns to her childhood home in Delhi to discover a house still inhabited by the desperate and impulsive spirit of her mother who, years before, abandoned her family for a wild, dangerous journey across the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. And, in "Letter from the Last Bastion," a teenage girl begins a correspondence with a middle-aged male novelist who, having built his reputation writing about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, confides in her the secret truth of those experiences, and the lie that has defined his life as a man. Lucky Girls marks the arrival of a writer of exceptional talents, one whose generosity of spirit, clarity of intellect and emotion, and skill in storytelling set her among today's most gifted and exciting young voices.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
gorgeously written … a remarkably poised collection of stories … Young writers as ambitious -- and as good -- as Nell Freudenberger give us reason for hope. — Jennifer Schuessler
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. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept. 1) Forecast: A 10-city author tour and an NPR campaign will kick things off for Freudenberger, who has already done advance promotion at BEA. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
This American novelist's significant debut features young women experiencing adult love in Southeast Asia and India. These female expatriates view the global community through their own privileged backgrounds in impressive, lyrical, authentic, and exquisite voices. In five stories, Freudenberger provides the reader with an intimate sense of the leap from innocence to experience, the risks of being an outsider, and the strengths of youth making impulsive decisions. The Tutor strikes a familiar cord, as SAT tutor and aspiring writer Zubin in Bombay attempts to further Julia's application to Berkeley, but Julia has other ideas on her mind. The Orphan unearths prejudice and judgment by New York parents in Bangkok as their children also judge them. This story would provide a marvelous discussion between generations because both are so powerfully portrayed. The titular narrative, Lucky Girls, is a simple euphemism for the extreme clash of cultures that are balanced here. Letter from the Last Bastion, a remarkable epistolary effort, highlights a soldier's war crimes in Vietnam, questioning the gap between fact and fiction and marvelously describing "virginity." Outside the Eastern Gate artfully weaves the mystery of a lost mother with personal insecurity. This book is clearly one of the best this reviewer has read in some time. The mature themes and daring prose, however, are meant for adults and a very specific, literary high school audience. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, Ecco/HarperCollins, 225p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Nancy Zachary
Library Journal
Reading Freudenberger's short stories is like walking in on the middle of a conversation and having to leave before you catch up on all of the details. The speakers are at best half explained, motivation remains a mystery, and you are left wanting a fuller explanation of events. These five pieces are set mostly in Asia, with themes that include dysfunctional family relationships, failed love affairs, and abandonment. In the title story, for instance, a young woman considers her bonds to India, her adopted homeland, after her married lover dies. But while the characters are nicely diverse, they inspire neither affection nor loathing; we simply know too little about them. They experience no epiphanies, no dramatic changes in circumstances or personal understanding. The stories work best when read slowly, so that we can contemplate a character's mood, but at most we get a glimpse into a complicated scenario. Nevertheless, Freudenberger came to readers' attention in the vaunted New Yorker fiction issue, and her first collection is being highly touted, which may recommend it to large public and most academic contemporary fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/03.]-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Five longish, often familiar, but always readable stories by Freudenberger-like Jonathan Safran Foer, a New Yorker discovery in its Summer 2001 Debut Fiction issue. In the title piece (reprinted from that New Yorker issue), an American girl who paints has an affair with a native Delhi man. When he unexpectedly dies, she's left in a kind of limbo, half-looked-after by the dead man's imperious mother, but not really belonging any longer in Delhi-a fact made cruelly obvious when the dead lover's widow says to her one day, "I have my sons. . . . And you have no one." Longer, looser, and less successful is "The Orphan." An American girl calls home from Bangkok to tell her mother she's been raped by her Thai boyfriend. Result? Meek and wan mother, cold and pompous lawyer father, and college-age brother descend upon her in a "rescue" attempt. All four are spoiled, they fight and nip among themselves, not one is appealing in the least way-and the story's symbols labor against what's asked of them. Altogether more successful-and the best here-is "Outside the Eastern Gate," about another American girl, this one scarred by her poetically (and carelessly) flamboyant mother's abandonment of her-in more than one way. At age 40, the girl returns to her father in his expatriate home in India, where the past crumbles, just as does her father's mind under Alzheimer's. Equally good in its details but much less commanding in it subject is "The Tutor." The American girl lives in Bombay this time, with her divorced father (the mother went back to the US), attending American school and acting like-oy, like a teenager. It's SAT time: she's good in the math but needs work with the verbal, gets a tutor who went toHarvard-and manages to lose her virginity to him. Longest and most strained for its effect is "Letter from the Last Bastian," about a Vietnam-era novelist and the girl of 17 who's writing this long letter about him-and her. Fiction more skillful than memorable. First serial to the Paris Review and Granta; author tour
Raleigh News & Observer
“Skillful and assured...Freudenberger’s prose is smooth.
Houston Press
“Freudenberger is...a fantastic writer.”
Speakeasy magazine
“[Freudenberger’s] stories have the complex nuances of a mature writer.”
Los Angeles Times
“Throughout the book...are moments of sharp humor and wise insight.”
Vogue
“In simple, elegant prose, she renders foreign landscapes with unsentimental precision.”
People
“Lucky Girls is a beautiful story that has a graceful simplicity.”
The Journal News
“Extraordinary stories.”
People Magazine
"Lucky Girls is a beautiful story that has a graceful simplicity."
Speakeasy Magazine
"[Freudenberger’s] stories have the complex nuances of a mature writer."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060088804
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/17/2004
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Lucky Girls
Stories

Chapter One

I had often imagined meeting Mrs. Chawla, Arun's mother. It would be in a restaurant, and I would be wearing a sophisticated blue suit that my mother had sent me soon after I moved to India, and Mrs. Chawla would not be able to keep herself from admiring it. Of course, in those fantasies Arun was always with me.

As it happened, Mrs. Chawla appeared early one morning, in a car with a driver, unannounced. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my painting shorts, having a cup of tea. There was no time to straighten up the living room or take a shower. I went into the bedroom, where Arun and I had often slept, and put on a dress -- wrinkled, but at least it was clean. I put my cup in the sink and set a pot of water on the stove. Then I watched through the window. Mrs. Chawla had got out of the car and was standing with her arms crossed, instructing her driver how to park. The car moved forward, backed up, and then inched forward again.

Mrs. Chawla shaded her eyes to look at the backyard: the laundry line with my clothes hanging on it, the grackles perched on the telephone pole, the pile of soft, rotting bricks. I had a feeling that had come to seem familiar in the eight months since Arun had died, a kind of panic that made me want to stand very still.

The bell rang.

"Hello, Mrs. Chawla," I said. "I'm glad you came." From her handwriting, I had expected someone more imposing. She was several inches shorter than I was, and heavy. Her hair was long and dyed black, with a dramatic white streak in the front; and she was wearing a navy blue salwar-kameez, the trousers of which were tapered at the ankles, in a style that was just becoming fashionable.

"Yes," she said. "I've been meaning to. I can't stay long." She gave me a funny smile, as if I weren't what she had expected, either.

"Will you have some tea?" I offered.

"Do you have tea?" she asked, sounding surprised. She looked at the drawn blinds in the living room. There was a crumpled napkin next to the salt and pepper shakers on the table, where I had eaten dinner the night before, and which I had asked Puja, the servant, to clean. Now that it was summer, cockroaches had started coming out of the walls.

"Please don't go to any trouble," she said. "Puja can do it -- is she in the kitchen?" Arun had hired Puja to do my cooking and cleaning; when he told me she had worked for his mother, I'd hoped that Mrs. Chawla was making a friendly gesture. In fact, Puja was a terrible housekeeper and a severely limited cook. She lived in a room at the back of the house, with her husband and four little girls; at night I often saw her crouched in the backyard, making chapatis on a pump stove with a low blue flame.

Mrs. Chawla walked confidently toward the kitchen, calling Puja in a proprietary voice, and I realized that Arun's mother had been in my house before. She could have come any number of times, in the afternoons, when I taught art at the primary school or went out shopping in Khan Market. Puja would have let her in without hesitation.

When Mrs. Chawla reappeared, she scrutinized the chairs, before choosing to sit on the sofa. She smiled, revealing a narrow space between her teeth. "Where exactly are you from?" she asked.

"My father lives in Boston, but my mother is in California now," I told her.

"Ah," said Mrs. Chawla softly, as if that explained everything. "An American family. That must make it difficult to decide where to return to."

I had no plans to return, as I should have explained. "It rules out Boston and California," I said instead.

Mrs. Chawla didn't smile.

My brother, I added, was getting married in Boston in July.

"And you like the bride?" she asked.

"Oh," I said. "I only met her once." I could feel the next question coming, and then a thing happened that often happens to me with people who make me nervous.

"What's her name?" Mrs. Chawla asked.

Her name, which I knew perfectly well, slipped into some temporarily unrecoverable place. "Actually, I don't remember," I said.

Mrs. Chawla looked at me, puzzled. "How strange," she said.

Puja brought the tea. She knelt on the floor and began placing things, item by item, on the coffee table: spoons, cups, saucers, milk, sugar, and a small plate of Indian sweets that Mrs. Chawla must have brought with her. The tea, it seemed, was no longer my hospitable gesture.

"How is she doing?" Mrs. Chawla asked, nodding at Puja.

"She's wonderful," I lied. Now that Arun wasn't here to tell her what to do, the house was getting dirtier and dirtier.

Puja's little girls were watching us from the kitchen doorway. When Mrs. Chawla saw them, she said suddenly, "Girls," and repeated it sharply in Hindi. "I have told her that if she has another baby" -- Mrs. Chawla paused and looked at Puja-- "Bas! Enough, I'm sending her back to Orissa." She turned back to me. "That's east India," she informed me, as if I had never seen a map of the subcontinent. "The people there are tribals. Did you know that? Puja is a tribal. These people have nothing, you know, except floods and cyclones. Now they're having terrible floods -- have you seen them on television? Thousands of people are sick, and there isn't enough drinking water. I tell her that, and what do you think she says?"

Puja knew only a few words of English. She seemed to be smiling at her feet, which were bare, extremely small, and decorated with silver toe rings ...

Lucky Girls
Stories
. Copyright © by Nell Freudenberger. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Nell Freudenberger's collection of stories, Lucky Girls, was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2005 Freudenberger was the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. She lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
April 21, 1975
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
B.A., Harvard University, 1997; M.F.A., New York University, 2000

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Lucky Girls 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy this at all, the characters were not likeable, the writing was not inspiring. When I saw that it had won an award I had hope. Perhaps I should dust off my own medicore pieces and see what I come up with.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most boring and contrived books written and published in the past years. Very poor character devt and no good sense of narrative and dull, MFA'd cookie-cutter approaches, pass on this one folks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first read the reviews for this book I was very eager to read the stories therein- I had no idea that the reviews would be better than the stories themselves. There is one story in the middle of the book that turned out very well (a good thing, if not I wouldn't have wanted to continue reading) but the other stories proved to be a bit weak in both storyline, and writing. If you'd like to read this book, borrow it from the library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It sounds like it sucks
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I used to work in a book store and got this book as an advance reading copy. I LOVED it so much that now I often buy it to give as gifts. A beautiful collection of short stories!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading one of the author's short stories in The New Yorker, and had eagerly been anticipating this collection. Several of the stories are consisent with the New Yorker story: many of the main characters are expatriats experiencing dilemnas with love, and confusion with where they belong. While I enjoyed the first few stories and found them to be very well written, the later stories, especially the last story about the author, were not as enjoyable. Overall, I found the common themes and tone of the collection to be melancholy and depressing .