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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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More impressive stories from Lucia Berlin - only one of which is conventional in form

Still stunned and impressed by Lucia Berlin's stories in her posthumous collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women. They are unconventional by any measure, and some seem as if they should more properly be called essays, although maybe calling them fiction gives her greater latitude with fact and detail?, but the two pieces about her time, or the narrator's time in any event, working in a hospital ER as an intake clerk, are both chilling and terrific, giving us a sense of what life is like in an urban hospital ER that deals with everything from the most serious trauma to the oddballs who show up every couple of days with a new complaint - their true malady is that they're sad and lonely. In one of these stories, Temps Perdu (yes we get the reference) a hospital patient reminds her of a childhood friend and the story artfully moves back and forth in time, excellent and uncompromising on both ends of the spectrum. I'm about 150 pp in (it's a 400 p collection) and only one story is a traditional is style and structure; that is, none of the others has a true arc of narrative, many are not even about the one single epiphanic moment (some are), and in all but one the narrator is clearly a persona of the author. The exception - she probably did it just to show she could - is Todos anos, todas dias - sorry, my Spanish is non-existent, but it translates something like, All the years, all the days - is about a recently widowed, middle-aged woman from Colorado, a high-school Spanish teacher with a seemingly drab and timid personality, who goes on summer vacation in Mexico, starts off at a resort where she's awkward and lonely, then ventures off and ends up staying in a fishing village where she goes diving with men of the village to spear-hunt and to harvest clams: it reminded me throughout of Lawrence at his best, but actually more appealing than DHL because from a feminine (and more credible) perspective and because devoid of the reactionary political undertones (or overtones). Another great story involves Berlin as a young girl in a posh school in Chile - her father, as we learn, I believe this hews to the facts, was a highly prominent mining engineer - where she is taken in by a leftist teacher, whom she really doesn't like very much - at that age her political sympathies were entirely aligned with her social set, very surprising when we know of her accomplishments, and troubles, as an adult - and whom she cruelly dismisses at the end of the story, tossing her away like a Kleenex - a story of American imperialism from a completely fresh perspective.

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