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lucia berlinA Manual for Cleaning Women
Lucia Berlin
Picador

Unless you live in a media-free bubble, you’ve probably now heard of Lucia Berlin, as this collection has just been published in paperback. However, until recently her work has existed in relative obscurity.

I’m sure there are many reasons for this, such as the lack of popularity of the short story form and her focus on memoir-based writing.  I’m not sure if the fact that she’s a woman is to blame, although I’m sure some people will be quick to cite sexism in publishing as a reason.

Perhaps now is her time.  Short stories seem to be gaining in popularity and writers who choose to focus on them, rather than novels, such as Alice Munro, are gaining accolades.

I much preferred Lucia Berlin’s short stories to the ones I’ve read by Alice Munro and there were very few stories in this collection that I didn’t enjoy.  Berlin wrote from her own life, which fortunately for her, was varied and fascinating.  She lived in South America and all over the  United States, experienced both poverty and affluence, dealt with personal grief, alcoholism and a series of dead-end jobs as a single parent.  All of which made for interesting raw material.

I’m not generally a touchy-feely sort of person, but Lucia Berlin had a human warmth and passionate nature, which makes her writing very moving.  Many of her stories deal with her sister’s terminal illness and I found them very affecting.  There is also the odd shock factor in there which gives the collection an edge.  For that reason I’d say that this collection bridges the gap between literary fiction, ‘dirty realism’ and (dare I say it) chick lit. (Sorry!).

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