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Old 8th Mar 2016, 16:26   #1
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Default A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

A Manual For Cleaning Women – short stories by Lucia Berlin

There’s a note at the back of my library copy of A Manual For Cleaning Women (Picador) about Lucia Berlin’s life. And what a life it was. I’m glad I read it before I started on the 400 pages of short stories within, because they all seem autobiographical, and knowing that simply intensified the experience.

Born in Alaska in 1936, her early childhood was spent in various US mining towns, followed by some privileged and glamorous years in Chile while she was a teenager, which contrasted sharply with later episodes in her life; she went to university in New Mexico; she had three marriages, all of which ended, and four children, and alcoholism (which she eventually overcame). She endured scoliosis all her adult life, nursed her dying sister, and had a variety of jobs, including as a teacher, switchboard operator, hospital clerk, cleaner, and doctor’s assistant. All this happened in a long list of places that also includes New York, Mexico, California and Colorado. She died in 2004.

This volume contains plenty of grimness, as you can probably guess from the alcoholism and the dying sister and the failed marriages and the various jobs in healthcare settings. Pain and suffering and fear and brutality abound, but oh what compassion and love among the terrible tales, and – most surprisingly – what humour.

Some of these stories were unbearably sad, some made me exclaim out loud at funny moments and unexpected twists. Tiny, telling details build to authentic, intimate descriptions of people, places, motivations, and memories. In the final story, sitting on her front porch watching crows, thinking back over her life and musing about what might have otherwise been, she says:
“What bothers me is that I only accidentally noticed them. What else have I missed? How many times in my life have I been, so to speak, on the back porch, not the front porch? What would have been said to me that I failed to hear? What love might there have been that I didn’t feel?”
It feels to me as though she heard, and saw, and felt just about everything. She concludes:
“These are pointless questions. The only reason I have lived so long is that I let go of my past.”
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Old 8th Mar 2016, 21:53   #2
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Default Re: A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

I bought this book back in December after it appeared on several 'best of the year' lists. I've read a story here and there between other things, but it has sat on my nightstand unopened for weeks. I don't know why I haven't returned to it as what I have read was excellent. Your post, vencut2, definitely makes me want to go back and focus on finishing it.
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