this is one of those times i feel lousy for having accepted a free copy of a book. not only for taking a month to read it and then an additional two months to actually sit down and review it, but (and this is tied in to why it has taken me so long to actually sit down and review it) because i’m not sure i have anything useful/interesting to say about it.
no, i mean more than usual, meanie.
there was a lot of excitement around lucia berlin when A Manual for Cleaning Women was published a few years back – i remember being curious because the raves were coming from a lot of different kinds of readers, and that always makes my RA-spidey-senses tingle. “is this one of those elusive ‘sure bets?’” i wondered.
i never ended up reading it – i’ve become better-disposed towards, but still reluctant to pick up short story collections, even when it comes to authors i’ve read and loved, never mind a complete stranger-danger author.
but, to continue the rhymes, for free is for me, and when i was offered a copy of this, i said “sure!” figuring i’d finally catch up on 2015’s hype.
and maybe this is a poor introduction to a deceased author’s work – instead of reading the “best of” posthumous collection, to begin with the “unpublished scraps we found lying around to sell more books by an author unable to provide new material.”
but that’s what i did. and i found it, as a collection, to be somewhat unremarkable. and i’m sure it’s because i did this ass-backwards, but, having done it this way, i must report back accordingly.
there’s some fine writing here; she has a good narrative flow and the stories are oftentimes accessible and engaging, but i’m not sure how or if they’re meant to connect; characters recur, but their details don’t always add up, and it doesn’t read like a progression or a story cycle – sometimes it just feels like “these are names the author likes to use.” i understand berlin tended towards the autobiographical in her fiction, and there’s a lot here about addiction, restlessness, family, motherhood, all spread across variety of locations in which berlin lived over the course of her life, but there’s no clear thematic throughline tying everything together. which, obviously there wouldn’t be in a collection cobbled-together, unpolished by the author before publication.
and that’s all i got this time. i think i’d like A Manual for Cleaning Women more than this and i also think if you’ve already read A Manual for Cleaning Women, you’d be more into this one than i was, able to see the flesh around the filaments.
here is a part i did like, in which two dudes talk about clouds:
What galls me the most is how they talk together, out in the shop, for hours and hours. I mean to say this has nagged me to death. What in Sam Hill are those old farts talking about out there?
Well, now I know.
Rex: You know,Ty, this is a damn good whiskey.
Tyler: Yep. Damn good.
Rex: Goes down like mother’s milk.
Tyler: Smooth as silk.
(They’ve only been swilling that rotgut for forty-some years.)
Rex: Look at them old clouds… billowing and tumbling.
Rex: I expect that’s my favorite kind of cloud. Cumulus. Full of rain for my cattle and just as pretty as can be.
Tyler: Not me. Not my favorite.
Rex: How come?
Tyler: Too much commotion.
Rex: That’s what’s fine,Ty, the commotion. It’s majestic as all git out.
Tyler: God damn, this is a nice mellow hooch.
Rex: That is just one hell of a beautiful sky.
Tyler: My kind of sky is a cirrus sky.
Rex: What? Them wispy no-count little clouds?
Tyler: Yep. Now up in Ruidoso, that sky is blue. With those light cirrus clouds skipping along so light and easy.
Rex: I know that very sky you’re talking about. Day I shot me two buck antelope.
(That’s it. The entire conversation…)
so i guess i can’t cross “catch up on 2015s hype” off my to-do list just yet. but i’ll get there!