A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

One unexpected consequence of reading a library book is to catch the faint smell of stale cigarettes and wonder if it’s coming from your neighbor’s apartment, then realize the pages you’re turning are all choked with smoke. That olfactory displeasure didn’t make me want to linger over the stories any more than Lucia Berlin’s words did. Always be suspicious of a book that has both a forward and an introduction by two of the author’s friends. Lydia Davis forewords us with an exposition on Berlin’s writing, filling a few pages choc-a-bloc with examples, too much really, better to let us dive right in to experience. Then a (thank god) shorter introduction by Stephen Emerson, again unnecessary and makes me wonder if Davis and Emerson fought about who would get to introduce the reader and they both won. Yes, Berlin’s writing is tight, terse, musical. Also somewhat tiresome, as she returns to the same characters over and over, from different perspective and years. I’m bothered by not being able to pin down where I read “Friends” before, and while I find a copy of it online, I can’t help but have a memory of sitting in a chair outside in the woods near Ukiah, reading that story. Which is all to say, decent writing and perhaps enjoyable if you get a less fumigated copy.