book report #1
Last evening Nell Freudenberger returned to Three Lives & Co. (my favorite bookstore on Earth) to read from her new novel, The Dissident. Her debut book, a fine collection of stories called Lucky Girls, immediately established the young writer’s lively intelligence and understated wit, & I am happy to report that her sophomore offering is even better. Freudenberger said she was “glad to have the chance to spend three years with these characters,” as opposed to undertaking the quicker process of composing a short story.
The dissident is Yuan Zhao, an experimental Chinese artist who has accepted a yearlong residency in Los Angeles, where he will teach art to private-school girls & live with a wealthy family whose dysfunction becomes quickly evident. Freudenberger’s skill is that she’s equally at home describing illegal performance art in the hutongs of Beijing as she is revealing the self-aware inner workings of overprivileged yet dissatisfied Americans. I never like being given too much information about a book before reading it myself, so I will limit this to the briefest of summaries—& add that you, too, will be grabbed by the tale. “Just one more chapter,” you’ll promise yourself as the clock approaches two a.m., “I just want to see what happens next.”
You know how, if you run into a friend you haven’t seen for a couple of years, you want to be able to give a compelling answer to “So, what’s new with you?” Well, Nell Freudenberger is the kind of cool girl who can. Since she last visited Three Lives (where, as it happens, she had the first reading of her career), she’s travelled to Asia, won a Whiting Writers’ Award, & started learning Chinese. And, of course, given us The Dissident. Go & get yourself a copy.