The stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women make for one of the most remarkable unsung collections in twentieth-century American fiction. With extraordinary honesty and magnetism, Lucia Berlin invites us into her rich, itinerant life: the drink and the mess and the pain and the beauty and the moments of surprise and of grace. Her voice is uniquely witty, anarchic and compassionate. Celebrated for many years by those in the know, she is about to become - a decade after her death - the writer everyone is talking about. The collection will be introduced by Lydia Davis. 'With Lucia Berlin we are very far away from the parlours of Boston and New York and quite far away, too, from the fiction of manners, unless we are speaking of very bad manners ...The writer Lucia Berlin most puts me in mind of is the late Richard Yates.' LRB, 1999
This selection of 43 stories ... should by all rights see her as lauded as Jean Rhys or Raymond Carver. -- John Self Independent In A Manual for Cleaning Women we witness the emergence of an important American writer, one who was mostly overlooked in her time. She is the real deal. New York Times Lucia Berlin's collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, deserves all of the posthumous praise its author has received ... Her work is being comp-ared to Raymond Carver, for her similar oblique, colloquial style; her mordant humour; the recurrence of alcoholics; and her interest in the lives of working-class or marginalised people. But only Carver's very final stories share Berlin's eye for the sud-den exaltation in ordinary lives, or her ability to shift the tone of an entire story with an unexpected sent-ence. -- Sarah Churchwell, 'Best Books of 2015' Guardian Some short story writers - Chekhov, Alice Munro, William Trevor - sidle up and tap you gently on the shoulder: Come, they murmur, sit down, listen to what I have to say. Lucia Berlin spins you around, knocks you down and grinds your face into the dirt. You will listen to me if I have to force you, her stories growl. But why would you make me do that, darlin'? ... Berlin's stories are full of second chances. Now readers have another chance to confront them: bits of life, chewed up and spat out like a wad of tobacco, bitter and rich. New York Times Book Review [Berlin's] stories are peopled with sharp, unpredictable, vital characters (often drunk!). They hit you with a force the moment you happen upon them. -- Jackie Kay Observer [Berlin's] writing really soars. Literary Review The tone, worldly wise and somewhat regretful, is a sort of hardboiled domestic. When writing in this mode, Berlin is at her closest to Raymond Carver ... Other writers she shares at least a little DNA with include Grace Paley and Barry Hannah. Occasionally ... her beautiful, relentless, evocative prose echoes that of James Salter. Guardian Berlin's stories ... alternate between light and dark so seamlessly and suddenly that a certain emotion barely fades before you feel something abruptly different ... The result is a fictional world of wide-ranging impact, a powerful chiaroscuro that manages to encompass the full spectrum of human experience ... [Berlin] deserves to be ranked alongside Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, and Anton Chekhov. She excels at pacing, structure, dialogue, characterization, description, and every other aspect of the form. The Boston Globe There is a seemingly effortless style to these beautifully observant tales of detoxing, lapsing and old affections. Sunday Express This career-spanning volume should reward readers who return to it for months, years, even decades ... Berlin's stories offer few answers, and no easy routes to redemption, but empathy pulses. -- Max Liu Independent Berlin writes about extremities of shame, humiliation and degradation with a ferocious elegance that allows neither bleakness not sentimentality ... The editorial arrangement by Berlin's friend Stephen Emerson is particularly sensitive to the jazzy musicality of the stories ... These perfectly poised cadences are the work of a writer who knew exactly how good she was. -- Jane Shilling New Statesman Full of humor and tenderness and emphatic grace ... Those not lucky enough to have yet encountered the writing of Lucia Berlin are in for some high-grade pleasure when they make first contact. Washington Post A Manual for Cleaning Women is a miracle of storytelling. Elle Here's prose to fall hard for, from the first beautifully candid paragraph to the last. As Berlin's characters confide in the reader and in each other, somehow, through the "ifs" and "buts," laundry and flower clocks, grace and catastrophe, a mesh is woven that captures life itself. I'm bowled over by her. -- Helen Oyeyemi What a thrilling, welcome discovery this collection is. These are stories to beguile, fascinate and surprise. You are never sure what will happen next. As soon as I'd finished this book, I had to turn back to the beginning and start again. -- Maggie O'Farrell Berlin's writing is characterised by an enormous appetite for life, for humour and for love ... This almost chatty style is undercut by brutal one-liners and swift reversals that, along with skilful narrative shaping, remind you that these are painstakingly crafted stories. -- Catherine O'Flynn Guardian Berlin's literary model is Chekhov, but there are extra-literary models too, including the extended jazz solo, with its surges, convolutions, and asides. This is writing of a very high order. -- August Kleinzahler on Where I Live Now London Review of Books [The stories] are set in the places Berlin knows best: Chile, Mexico, the Southwest and California, and they have the casual, straightforward, immediately intimate style that distinguishes her work ... [They] are told in an easy conversational voice and they go from start to finish with a swift and often lyrical economy ... Berlin's stories capture and communicate these moments of grace and cast a lovely, lazy light that lasts. She is one of our finest writers. -- Molly Giles on So Long San Francisco Chronicle Lucia Berlin might be the most interesting person you've never met ... Every detox ward, dingy Laundromat, and sunbaked Mexican palapa spills across the page in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you'll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again. Entertainment Weekly [Lucia Berlin] may just be the best writer you've never heard of ... 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 ... 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 ... [A Manual for Cleaning Women] goes a long way toward putting Berlin, who died in 2004, back in the public eye. Publishers Weekly (starred review) Lucia Berlin has long been overlooked as one of America's best short story writers, and it only takes readers the first couple of pages to recognize that ... Reminiscent of Raymond Carver with a dash of survivor's humor, which makes even the bleakest tales thoroughly enjoyable. Nylon A major talent ... A testament to a writer whose explorations of society's rougher corners deserve wider attention. Kirkus (Starred Review) Berlin's posthumous, highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult her into a household name. Marie Claire How a writer with this much appeal slipped under the radar is unfathomable ... Anyone who loves the stories of Grace Paley and Lorrie Moore will find another master of the form here ... Just go get the book and start reading them for yourself. Newsday Berlin's ability to gaze into a person's soul is reflected in her writing it is incisive, and the boldness of the prose jumps off the page ... Poignant, comic and beautifully observed. The Lady [The stories] reel you in with their warmth, humour and a cast of ordinary women leading very real, very messy lives. Red This was a brilliant woman. [Berlin's] work transcends funny and shows us the absurd. She doesn't let her characters hide behind artifice or sensationalism or substances, as much as they might like to. Reading these stories, you get the sense that this is what she wanted for herself: to let go of the bullshit. As a result, the transformation she provides is visceral and startling. -- Kelly Luce Electric Lit Begin reading a Berlin short story and you know immediately that you are in the presence of a unique and searing literary force ... This revelatory volume now brings her forward to stand beside her peers. Booklist Berlin's tales of addiction and violence, formally unpredictable and drolly grotesque, defy our expectations for working-class fiction ... If you aren't familiar with Berlin, now's the time to get acquainted ... A Manual for Cleaning Women brings together 43 of the unconventional, unnerving stories Berlin wrote over the course of thirty years ... offer[ing] unusually detailed portraits of working-class lives ... Allusive and lyrical, her writing looks more modernist than minimalist ... [Berlin] didn't generalize or ironize working-class experience; she instead presented her neighbors in all their compelling specificity ... What this writing affirms is the beautiful, broken human body as well as Berlin's rightful place in the canon of American short fiction. -- Maggie Doherty New Republic Berlin was underrecognized during her life-she died in 2004 at age 68-but A Manual for Cleaning Women, a collection of her work edited by Stephen Emerson and with a foreword by Lydia Davis, should correct that. These 43 stories, mostly published from the 1960s to the '80s, illuminate a gritty world where pink-collar workers seek illegal abortions, endure unwanted caresses from strange men and scavenge for pennies to nurse their addictions ... Infused with Berlin's caustic humor and a sense of self-discovery ... the most touching stories have fun with the foreboding. -- Eliana Dockterman Time
Lucia Berlin (1936-2004) worked brilliantly but sporadically throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Her stories are culled from 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, including as a high-school teacher, a switchboard operator, a physician's assistant, and a cleaning woman.