By Karen Valby
Updated August 11, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

In her celebrated 2003 story collection Lucky Girls, Nell Freudenberger proved she had chops. In The Dissident, her intricately plotted novel about a Chinese performance artist-in-residence and the frayed Beverly Hills family who host him, she again experiments with voice. She flits into the heads of many characters, from an understimulated housewife to her overeager novelist sister-in-law, all the while exploring deep questions of family, art, and ambition. Freudenberger reserves the first person for her titular hero, adrift in a foreign land, but here her voice wobbles. Her ambition may have gotten in the way of her art, but what a treat to see a young writer taking risks.