Julie Christine's Reviews > A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2017, read-2017, shorts

I know already, just four stories in, that this will be a 5-Star read for me. And that a few weeks from now—because I am reading slowly, to savor each bit— I will struggle to pick my favorites from the forty-two short stories collected here. So this review contains tidbits from those stories which most capture my heart and brain and I will update as I move along.

Angel's Laundromat
A laundromat . . . that transient, warm, sad space . . . where we watch others sorting, folding, watching us... But mostly we're all just waiting. It's a waiting space. One of the loneliest. Berlin captures this loneliness, and the chance encounters possible if we happen to catch the eye of someone else sitting in those miserable molded plastic seats.

Dr. H.A. Moynihan
Wherein a young girl yanks out all her Grandpa's teeth. Not quite as vicious as it sounds, but also not for the faint of heart. Fabulous. Brutal.

Stars and Saints
Lucia Berlin comes up with these sentences, buried amidst all her brilliant sentences, that make me ache to write. This, That day on the playground I knew that never in my life was I going to get in. It's a brilliant opening line, don't you think? One I'd like to craft an entire story around. Yet it's just one in a collection of such lines in this wry, strange and sad little story.

A Manual for Cleaning Women
Oh. This. Ache. Melancholy. Grief. The beauty of being present. Like the laundromat, Berlin takes us into another transient, lonely space. Here it is a city bus, where one sees the same faces traveling the same routes, where relationships are built from habit and shared experience, in those brief, moving encounters.

El Time
Every high school teacher's nightmare: the student who is smarter, stronger, full of cunning and allure.

Her First Detox
A mother of four sons, a successful teacher, awakens in a detox unit without any knowledge of how she got there, or memories of her most recent binge to become the darling of the ward. Sweet, tender, devastating.

Emergency Room Notebook, 1977 and Temps Perdu
Both stories gleaned from the author's experiences working in hospital wards. Good deaths and bad deaths, Code Threes and Code Blues. Spare, unflinching, brilliant.

Todo Luna, Todo Año
A middle-aged English teacher on holiday at a Mexican beach resort. Love, tragedy, scuba diving. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.

Short story perfection. One of those you'd teach in an English class because it's so elegantly, precisely constructed, with a BAM ending.

The horror of alcohol addiction rendered in three tight, devastating pages.

I read this aloud, because the language was so powerful. The sentences like knife cuts and hammer blows. The content so upsetting. This story will stay with me for a long time to come.

Grief, Fool to Cry, Panteón de Dolores, Mama, Wait A Minute
There are a string of stories, starting with the aforementioned Todo Luna, Todo Año featuring the two sisters Sally and Dolores, connected but not- each is a sketch, a study, a new angle on the motif of these sisters' shared and disparate experiences. Sally, long a resident of Mexico City, is dying of cancer; Dolores arrives to care for her, and their perspectives are threaded through in moments of reflection and tangled action/reaction. Mexico City, in its frenetic rush to live and die furiously, noisily, with color and music and trampling feet, becomes a character in its own right.

Carmen, Mijito
Berlin conveys despair in such a way that despite yourself, you cannot look away. These young woman speak directly to the reader with such a lack of spite, bitterness, regret; their lives are a series of horrors, yet each moves through like a bird through a storm cloud. The best and worst of the human condition live in these stories.

A young girl's voice, heard/no heard, as she navigates the terrible world of adults, seeking beauty. Will she end up just like them?
Sighs, the rhythms of our heartbeats, contractions of childbirth, orgasms, all flow into time just as the pendulum clocks placed next to one another son beat in unison. Fireflies in a tree flash on and off as one .The sun comes up and it foes down. The moon waxes and wanes and usually the morning paper hits the porch at six thirty-five.
Time stops when someone dies.

Time stops with each story in this collection. These are not easy reads and I needed a deep breath and some distance after each story. But Berlin's is some of the most astonishing writing I have read. Ever. It pains me that it has taken so long for us to recognize her power and mastery, that she will never know how deeply she has affected this new generation of readers. But do yourself a favor. Make it a priority to read this collection- take all the time you need, dip in and out, but know that you will finish a different human being than when you started.
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Reading Progress

December 1, 2015 – Shelved
December 1, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
March 12, 2017 – Started Reading
March 17, 2017 –
page 25
March 20, 2017 –
page 39
March 20, 2017 –
page 58
March 28, 2017 –
page 115
26.62% "'I've worked in hospitals for years now and if there's one thing I've learned it's that the sicker the patients are the less noise they make.' from Temps Perdu"
April 9, 2017 –
page 178
41.2% "'"Mister, what I need is money for a ticket home to Baton Rouge. Can you spare it, about sixty dollars?"
"Easy. You need a ticket. I need a drink. It will all work out."'"
April 11, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
April 11, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
April 11, 2017 – Shelved as: shorts
April 11, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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Melissa Stacy This book made me ache to read a memoir that will [tragically] never exist. I loved this collection so much. <3

message 2: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Just started reading this too and I'm loving it.

message 3: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Lindsay I have this one. Tried reading a few years ago but failed to connect. And was frustrated because I had heard such good things. Maybe I'll pick it up again.

Julie Christine Melissa wrote: "This book made me ache to read a memoir that will [tragically] never exist. I loved this collection so much. <3"

I would love to read this memoir, too, Melissa.

Julie Christine David wrote: "Julie...I also loved this collection, and was compelled to do some online research about Lucia Berlin. She was just as extraordinary off the page as she is on the pages of her short stories...she a..."

From just what I read in the notes in this book, I'm fascinated. And now that I'm deeper into this collection, I so admire her ability to pull these moments from her life, or her memories, and craft these sharp, surprising stories.

Julie Christine Kate wrote: "Just started reading this too and I'm loving it."

It's powerful stuff, Kate!

Julie Christine Leslie wrote: "I have this one. Tried reading a few years ago but failed to connect. And was frustrated because I had heard such good things. Maybe I'll pick it up again."

Oh, I've definitely had that happen. This was the case for me when I first picked up Elene Ferrante's work. A couple years later, I tried again and she floored me. I was hooked.

Funny, Berlin's style reminds me a bit of Ferrante's. And of Joan Didion's . . . I hope you give her another go!

message 8: by Angela M (new) - added it

Angela M I don't read many short story collections but your comments make this one very appealing! Thanks , Julie,

Julie Christine Angela M wrote: "I don't read many short story collections but your comments make this one very appealing! Thanks , Julie,"

I love that the stories are very short- I can dip in and out in free moments!

message 10: by Iris P (new) - added it

Iris P I have had this on my shelves for quite a while now but have been somewhat reluctant to start reading it because, well it is a large collection!
But your charming review definitely inspires me to find out what I've been missing. Perhaps I'll follow your approach and read them slowly.
It's very nice to connect with you again Julie, I have missed you :)

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