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 to Harvard—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.