A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Rating: 4.5 stars
This collection of short stories felt intensely personal, like I was spying on other’s lives as they went about their business, dealing with their highs and lows. The majority of the stories focused on the lows of addiction and loss, issues that the author struggled with personally. Most of Berlin’s works were published between 1980 and 2000, but I hate to admit that like the majority of readers I never heard of her until this collection of short stories was published in 2015. It’s been on my TBR list for a while and I finally got around to it. As with most of the books I read, I wish I read it sooner (there are so many books I wish I already read).
Some of the stories were only a few pages but still managed to pack an emotional punch as they stay on your mind long after you finished them. One of the stories that stuck with me was about a woman who befriends a lonely elderly couple and deals with the responsibilities of their friendship. Who is really helping who is up for debate, though, when you consider just how lonely the woman is.
There are also several interconnected stories that focus on two sisters who grew up with an emotionally abusive mother and reconnect later in life. Their stories were tragic and beautiful as they manage to forgive (or at least understand) their mother and each other while trying to live as best as they can. Some of the other stories shared characters as well, and it was interesting to pick up on similarities halfway through one and remember the other events those characters experienced. When you connect the stories together they provide motivation and context that otherwise would have been lost to the reader.
I highly recommend these stories to anyone interested in reading about the personal effects of addiction and troubled family relationships.