A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin

PUBLISHED 08.18.2015

02.11.2018 – 03.01.2018

GENRE Short Stories

More short stories about complicated women

Worth the hype

I found myself really happy with these short stories – which is a good thing, considering they are preceded by what felt like several stories’ length worth of prefaces and introductions extolling Lucia Berlin’s virtues. 

They were all good, and I did appreciate the biographical notes since they helped me understand how she focuses on the same “characters” and how her work is as much self-portrait as fiction, but there were a few standouts for me. “Point of View” and “Panteon de Dolores” were the two I wrote down in my notes on my phone as I was reading, but the one about the kid who won’t stop crying stuck with me for a very long time as well. Whenever she had a chance to play with perspective, the stories went from good to great, allowing her to disorient the reader – in a good way, of course. In “Point of View” especially, the perspective shift at the end absolutely sucker punched me.

My only complaint about the book is that there is just so much talking about the book before you even read a single story of Berlin’s. I felt while reading one of the front sections that I was being spoiled – having flipped through the book, I could already see her stories were quite short (to their benefit!), so block quoting entire paragraphs in the preface was almost disappointing. Put it at the end! Or shorten it by half, at least! They’re not bad pieces by any means, but the editing choice is frustrating.

There’s not much more I can say, then, that wasn’t said in those intros. It is truly sad that she was unappreciated in her time. I’m glad she’s getting a chance to be read now (and I know I’m a few years late too) – these are definitely stories I’ll come back to when seeking out clean prose, character studies, and a portrait of a part of America and a life with which I am really, wholly unfamiliar.