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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lucia Merlin and the space between her stories

So many of Lucia Berlin's stories are about addiction, in particular alcoholism, and in a few brushstrokes she paints a picture of the torment alcoholics and other addicts experience, literally grapple with every day. Some of her pieces are short, sketches more than stories; the cumulative effect is a portrait of a way of life, actually of her life, and we of course get the sense that she composed the stories in moments of lucidity, between which there were expanses of blackness. So few have chronicled this way of life so well - with no self-pity, bitterness, or condemnation of society, parents, children, poverty. In fact, it appears that Berlin was privileged from birth and well-educated - not that among those she crosses with in detox aren't intelligent, wily, survivors - but few have had the advantages Berlin had, which makes her story in some ways more poignant - and also, her education and intelligence give her the skills to tell her life story, in fragments, very well. Yes, A Manual for Cleaning Women is long, covering the span of a writer's life, so there's repetition - a selected stories might have been more powerful (and I do wish there were more info on dates of composition and publication, if there were recoverable) and very few seem to be mis-steps (I wish she hadn't gone back, in another guise, to visit the Mexican diver: the first story about the diver was one of her best, and it's diminished by a later story in which the diver is old and wealthy and his little remote strand of beach is now a Club Med), but there's a cumulative effect as well: each story is like drowning person's gasp for air, and we recognize that intervals between the story may have been desperate times for the author - who later emerges to tell her tale w/ mordant wit.

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