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A Manual for Cleaning Women
Cover of A Manual for Cleaning Women
A Manual for Cleaning Women
Selected Stories
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"I have always had faith that the best writers will rise to the top, like cream, sooner or later, and will become exactly as well-known as they should be-their work talked about, quoted, taught, performed, filmed, set to music, anthologized. Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves." -Lydia Davis

A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the Laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians.

Readers will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they'd ever overlooked her in the first place.

"I have always had faith that the best writers will rise to the top, like cream, sooner or later, and will become exactly as well-known as they should be-their work talked about, quoted, taught, performed, filmed, set to music, anthologized. Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves." -Lydia Davis

A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the Laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians.

Readers will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they'd ever overlooked her in the first place.

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About the Author-
  • Lucia Berlin (1936-2004) worked brilliantly but sporadically throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Her stories are inspired by her early childhood in various Western mining towns; her glamorous teenage years in Santiago, Chile; three failed marriages; a lifelong problem with alcoholism; her years spent in Berkeley, New Mexico, and Mexico City; and the various jobs she later held to support her writing and her four sons. Sober and writing steadily by the 1990s, she took a visiting writer's post at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1994 and was soon promoted to associate professor. In 2001, in failing health, she moved to Southern California to be near her sons. She died in 2004 in Marina del Rey. Her posthumous collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was named one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of 2015.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 6, 2015
    Berlin, who may just be the best writer you’ve never heard of, has a gift for creating stories out of anything, often from events as apparently mundane as a trip to the laundromat. Imagine a less urban Grace Paley, with a similar talent for turning the net of resentments and affections among family members into stories that carry more weight than their casual, conversational tone might initially suggest. Many of the strongest stories here are autobiographical, featuring Berlin’s stand-in (sometimes called Lucille, sometimes Carlotta) and her sons, husbands and lovers; a range of jobs, mostly pink collar, but occasionally, as in the title story, blue; a complicated backstory across two continents; and a problem with booze. Berlin’s offbeat humor, get-on-with-it realism, and ability to layer details that echo across stories and decades give her book a tremendous staying power. The collection could be tighter (there are over 40 stories, some only minor) and could give readers a better sense of how they’re sequenced, but this collection goes a long way toward putting Berlin, who died in 2004, back in the public eye. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 15, 2015
    A posthumous collection of stories, almost uniformly narrated by hard-living women, that makes a case for the author as a major talent. From the 1960s through the '80s, Lucia Berlin (1936-2004) published brilliant stories for low-profile publications-her six collections all appeared with reputable but small presses. One suspects she might have had a higher profile had her subject matter been less gloomy: she mined her history of alcoholism in stories like "Her First Detox" and "Unmanageable," which detail the turmoil of the DTs and lost potential, and her work in hospitals in stories like "Emergency Room Notebook, 1977," which establishes a milieu of "rich massive coronaries, matronly phenobarbital suicides, children in swimming pools." Yet the prevailing sensibility of this book, collecting 43 of the 76 stories Berlin published, is cleareyed and even comic in the face of life hitting the skids. The title story, for instance, balances wry commentary about housecleaning work ("never make friends with cats") and deadpan observation ("I clean their coke mirror with Windex") with a sad, thrumming back story. Similarly, "Sex Appeal" is narrated by a girl watching her older cousin primp for a date only to realize that she herself is the lecherous man's lust object-a discovery Berlin presents with both a sense of surprise and foreboding. Berlin's skill at controlling the temperature of a story is best displayed in her most emotionally demanding material. In "Tiger Bites," narrated by an El Paso woman who heads to Juarez for an illegal abortion, the pain of her experience and the pieties of her family at home collide. And "Mijito," which deserves to be widely anthologized, exposes how an immigrant woman's best intentions to care for her ailing son are easily derailed by circumstance and obligation. A testament to a writer whose explorations of society's rougher corners deserve wider attention.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2015
    Begin reading a Berlin short story and you know immediately that you are in the presence of a unique and searing literary force. Yet Berlin (19362004), published in the 1980s and 1990s by small presses, has heretofore been passionately appreciated by only a small, select audience. This revelatory volume now brings her forward to stand beside her peers, including Grace Paley, as writer and translator Lydia Davis (Can't and Won't, 2014) avers in her rousing foreword. Volume editor Stephen Emerson provides further biographical background, since Berlin's peripatetic life (Alaska, Albuquerque, Chile, the Bay Area), three marriages, four sons, and rising and falling income levels and wildly varied jobs provided her with fertile material for her tales of shattering perception, razor humor, and whiplash surprise. Berlin is exceptionally attuned to the randomness of life, its pains and pleasures, our vulnerability and resiliency. She portrays a young, grieving, acidly witty woman taking measure of the aberrations she witnesses as a cleaning woman; an abandoned, pregnant wife considering an abortion; a nurse cradling an injured jockey. As characters recur and settings and predicaments vary, Berlin unflinchingly strips bare casual and catastrophic cruelty and injustice, dramatizing, as one narrator puts it, times of intense technicolor happiness and times that were sordid and frightening. An essential collection of jazzy, jolting, incisive, wryly funny, and keenly compassionate, virtuoso tales.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

  • Molly Giles, San Francisco Chronicle "[The stories] are told in a conversational voice and they move with a swift and often lyrical economy. They capture and communicate moments of grace and cast a lovely, lazy light that lasts. Berlin is one of our finest writers and here she is at the height of her powers."
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Selected Stories
Lucia Berlin
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