Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nell Freudenberger, _Lucky Girls_

THIS BOOK AND its author have collected quite a few honors: the PEN/Malamud Award (for "excellence in the art of the short story"), designation as a New York Times Notable Book, Freudenberger's being chosen by the New Yorker last summer as one of the "Forty Under Forty" fiction writers.

There are five stories here -- generally speaking, they are intelligent, subtle, well-mannered stories about intelligent, subtle, well-mannered people, for the most part U.S. citizens whom circumstances have taken to the south Asian sub-continent. Nuanced, evocative descriptions of settings... carefully integrated exposition of the characters' pasts... faintly enigmatic, open-ended final paragraphs...

... left me almost perfectly unaffected, to tell you the truth. Everything perfectly just-so, like a 19th century academy piece.

The last story, however, won me over and gave me reason to look forward to the next Freudenberger that wafts my way in Granta or the New Yorker. "Letter from the Last Bastion" is original in form (a 60-page college application essay that its author will never send), its plot revelations surprising and effectively paced, and it actually has something interesting to present about the composition of fiction.

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