I dream in books and live inside them for a significant part of my days, unaware at times where reality and fiction cease to draw a defining line. Such habit turns into an unexpected pleasure whenever I pick the right book. All books are lovable and worth my time, but some of them are hard to part from- A manual for cleaning women by Lucia Berlin would stand out in any remarkable pile. It is close to perfection in style, simplicity, choice of words or genuineness.
Lucia Berlin is called one of America's best kept secrets. She spent her life writing and living, never acquiring much fame, doing menial jobs that inspired her to write wonderfully. She had to face health problems and she managed to do so elegantly, drawing upon each of her experiences to recreate a snippet of life in her stories. She loved, she mothered, she read, she lived. Looking at her in the sepia-toned photos, I find her coy, dainty, simple. Still, she had so much life inside that one cannot read her work and not feel alive. So many lives are captured and rendered beautifully worthy in her pages that after reading her work, I could add that she loved people. Tremendously.
A manual for cleaning women is a collection of stories that read like John Cheever, Raymond, Carver, or Grace Paley. There is such love for small people, living dangerously or in great simplicity, depending on how you choose to see their lives. She was one of them so there is a shred of personal sensitivity in every page. She was a mother of four, divorced, alcoholic, cleaning rich people's houses herself. She knows that behind failures and addictions, there is poetry revealed in a reckless manner. You get a peak into the lives filled with of alcohol, drug use, abortions, loneliness, disease, alienation. Still, you feel close to the characters because she feels so familiar with them, so intimate in depicting their lives or her own that every little aspect seems easy and natural. At times, the stories read like a memoir, a detailed accounting of a life spent in different places, alongside wounded people. Mining towns, coin laundries, hospitals, Mexico, hotels, emergency rooms all become unsurprising locations for her stories filled with compassion, wittiness and love.
Lucia Berlin's stories carry more weight than you would expect, more spunk than one would hope for. They flow into the reader, fill in the crevasses and exult into the clear need to be read again. They get a grip on you and hold you inside with their realism, beauty and grace. They are stories meant to haunt you in good and bad times with their engrossing power.