Was ich sonst noch verpasst habe: Stories – Lucia Berlin

Was ich sonst noch verpasst habe: Stories,  Lucia Berlin

(PCS) Lucia Berlin in “A Manual for Cleaning Women” compiles short stories as pieces of a puzzle, building up a kind of biography, hers, yours, anyone’s in fact, it does not matter for it is a biography of an astonishing and convulsive life. „Writing about your memory is a way to take control of your life,“ says Garcia de la Cueva, author of “Mum, I want to be a feminist”. The individual experience is a place from which to express collective experiences: Berlin talks about herself through her womanhood. Women in first person, in a collection of great emotional range stories, pierced with loneliness and shame, humour and melancholy. She speaks about a human experience that goes beyond the personal, which focuses on the meaningful, that opens to the world instead of staying in the chronicle of the experience itself.

Women in these stories are disoriented, but at the same time, strong, intelligent, and extremely genuine. They laugh, they weep, they love, they drink: they survive. Her characters are people who are mistreated by life. She talks about the disadvantaged classes, in particular the low-paid, low-prestige work of housewives, cleaners, nurses, teachers, etc. But Berlin does not stay there; her stories speak of daily resistances and rebellion.

There are stories about nuns, hospitals, Mexico, cancer, alcoholism, detox clinics and old people’s homes. A story about an American Indian at a laundromat, or one were a dentist takes out all his teeth. Some stories are electrifying, like a whiplash to consciousness, while others are so sharp and tremendous that they will leave you with a shrunken heart.

Like in a chat with friends, she jumps from one topic to another, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, at times even repetitive, insisting in her referents: alcoholism, complex family relationships, precariousness, misery, social criticism… and tenderness.

How is it possible not to identify with a woman who is always at the centre of a conflict, who always makes a bad impression? (Stars and Saints). How can you not smile with tenderness at “The Blume have a lot of pills, a plethora of pills. She has uppers, he has downers. Mr Blum has Belladonna pills. I don’t know what they do but I wish it was my name.” (A manual for cleaning women)? Impossible not to feel a heavy consciousness with “When your parents are dead your own death faces you” (Grief).

Berlin’s style is chatty, direct, full of brutal honesty and authenticity: Alive. The language is raw, unadorned, powerful, and painful. “All pain is real”. Deep loneliness is a constant as well as domestic, feisty, and funny humour.

She was overlooked in her time. The question now is not only why it took us so long to discover her, but how many more like her are out there, and if someday we will manage to know them all.

Im CID auf deutsch ausleihbar

(Arche 2017, 384 Seiten)

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