I've been hearing a lot about Nell Freudenberger lately, not least from Dove Grey Reader. So I picked up Lucky Girls, a short story collection by Nell last week, and have just made my way through it. She is certainly an assured writer. This collection holds five stories, each about a young American woman in foreign climes (although in the final story the foreign setting is by association only). She is skilled at presenting moments of emotional distress without becoming maudlin; in one story a young girl living in India sees her mother leaving for Afghanistan and Turkey:
The morning of our departure I watched my sister climb into the backseat, her chuni trailing out the door like a tail. I wanted to follow her but I was worried about my suitcase. When my father crouched down next to me, I asked him if he could please put it on the roof. Instead he took my whole body in his arms, and
then turned me around, so we were both facing the car. When my mother kissed me, I couldn't move my arms and I was sandwiched for a moment between the
two of them, a heaven of attention both perfect and fleeting.
"How would you like not to go to school today?" my father asked.
"I'm not going to school," I told him. "I'm going to Afghanistan."
"You take care of Daddy," my mother said, but they had orchestrated it carefully, because she was in the car, and the car was pulling away before I understood what was happening... I remember thinking that they were coming back around the block, that they were just testing the car and would return for me when they were certain that it worked. Still, there was this incredible anxiety about my suitcase, which was not yet on the roof with the others. "My suitcase," I said to my father, who was pinning my arms at my sides.... "They forgot my suitcase," I said, as I watched Vivian stealing my mother and my sister, driving them off to Afghanistan, where they would draw their own map in watercolors, live on white toast and milk chocolate, and climb very carefully through a range of glinting colored knives.
This collection seems to me to be part of what has been called "Peace Corps writing", the movement toward North Americans writing about their experiences elsewhere in the world. I was moved by some of the stories, but also felt a little left out of some kind of insider meaning, as if I was missing something. She uses French phrases sans translation, and although I can read French, it just felt like these characters were of the kind who would pepper their conversations casually with other languages. Each of the women (again excepting the final story) were privileged by wealth to be able to access a sort of cosmopolitan mobility, something of which I have no experience whatsoever, not even by association. But a book is not supposed to reflect only one's experience, or what is reading for?
Freudenberger showed a skillful hand at composing these longish short stories about young women at a point of crisis, and overall I was impressed. I admire her talent and her success at being published and feted, but I don't think I'll reread it. I'll pass it on to another reader and see if it resonates with them. If anyone would like to claim Nell's Lucky Girls, leave your name in the comments and I'll draw for it in a week (on April 10).