Book Review: A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories. London: Picador, 2015. Print.

Berlin’s stories are interwoven, almost as a memoir. The old writers’ saw, ‘write what you know’ is visible throughout the work. She brings her story to life in a manner that enables the reader to feel the emotions that her characters’ experience. “It has been seven years since you died” (386). The emotional pull hits like a hammer.

Berlin has no fear of reflecting on life as she addresses addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, suicide, and depression. Throughout the stories, she weaves a web about an abusive, alcoholic, and suicidal mother.

Her work is dark, depression laden. We see this darkness when the protagonist is contemplating her sister’s death. “Every day you’ve said good-bye a little. Oh just get it over with, for God’s sake” (381). Her multifaceted characters can turn an otherwise sad scene into one of joy. While waiting for the sister to die, she moves her under the bedroom window where she sees the sky and feels the warmth of the sun. The reader shares the feeling of beauty and warmth.

Berlin uses imagery to show contradiction, despair, and lack of hope within her characters. Through it all, her work is believable and full of imagery. No more so than in this paragraph from “Electric Car, El Paso”.

Mrs. Snowden … passed me fig newtons wrapped in talcum Kleenex. The cookie expanded in my mouth like Japanese flowers, like a burst pillow. I gagged and wept. Mamie smiled and passed me a sachet-dusted handkerchief, whispered to Mrs. Snowden, who was shaking her head (157).

Not only does she bring scenes to life through imagery, she does the same with objects such as her mother’s ratty old coat. “It had a fur collar. Oh the poor matted fur, once silver, yellowed now like the peed-on backsides of polar bears in zoos” (245).

Everything she writes is realistic. Her characters are believable, imbued with human traits, blemishes, and goodness. All are flawed, allowing the reader to understand their actions and motives.

Many of the characters in this collection reappear in various stories. We have plenty of time to get to know them. But even in stories about one character, she develops them in-depth, with simple phrases and words. In “Mijito” we learn a great deal about the young Mexican girl Amelia. Berlin puts us into the girl’s life as she cares for her infant son. We experience abandonment, abuse, unintended child abuse, hopelessness, and terror. We know Amelia before she accidentally kills the infant. “’ Amelia. Do you know that Jesus is dead?’ ‘Yes, I know. Lo se.’ And then in English she said, ‘Fuck a duck. I’m sorry’” (355).

Berlin is non-judgmental. She presents the world as it is, blemishes and all.

7 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

Pilz & Liberty

Recently my good friend and fellow writer, Julie Royce, agreed to be a Beta Reader for my novel Liberty. For some unknown reason she chose to identify with a small character, a part-time prostitute. In Liberty, Julie a single soccer mom needs to supplement her income to support her two daughters. She works a couple of shifts each week at a massage parlor where she plys the worlds oldest trade. Why Ms. Royce assumed she was the basis for the character’s name is beyond me. However, she has informed the world “In my next novel, the axe-murderer will be named George!”

You can see her blog at http://www.jkroyce.com/?page_id=366.

For a link to Julie’s novel PILZ click on this link: http://goo.gl/N4cFeA

If there is enough interest about how Julie and Officer Hector Navarro of the Liberty, Arizona police, spare while he trys to ensnare her, I will publish an excerpt from Liberty here for all to enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Odds and Ends

Why It’s Okay to Take a Break from Writing

Marilyn Meredith is my guest today and as always, it is great to have her join us. Marilyn will share her thoughts on why we might be justified in taking a break from writing.

Marilyn will also share a few thoughts about her new book, River Spirits. She is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series.

Marilyn is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and is on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in a community very similar to that of her protagonist, Deputy Tempe Crabtree.

You can visit her at http://fictionforyou.com</ul or read her blog at http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/.

Marilyn_Meredith2

George asked me to address this issue. To be honest, I wish I didn’t have to take as many breaks as I do. The reasons I take breaks are:

1. I have non-writing chores to do away from the computer–I do have a regular life. You know like doing errands, grocery shopping, planning and cooking meals.
2. I have a paying writing job. These come every so often and they have nothing to do with the “fiction writing” life.
3. Promotion has taken me away from home.
4. I’m planning/working on promotion.
5. Going on a trip. While I write this, I’m away from home, visiting family. I have a big family and when I get the chance, I love spending time with time with them.
6. But once in a while I do go on a trip just for fun.

However, I think what George really wanted me to talk about is refilling the well.

What I mean is sometimes when we’ve been doing a lot of writing or finished a book, we need to take time off and do something else. Focusing on something different for a while, can renew our energy.

When it’s time to start another writing project, we will be ready.

Because I write two different series, when I’ve sent the latest book in one series off to the publisher, I step away from the place and people I’ve been spending so much time with. It’s like shutting the door on them.

Though I don’t usually take too much time, I start thinking about the next project long before I’m ready to open the door and step into the other setting and greet the characters who live there.

Breaks can refresh you as a writer–whether you take long ones or shorts ones is up to you.

Marilyn

River Spirits

River Spirits

While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Biography

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour. He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow you’ll find me visiting with Mary Welk.

My topic: The Supportive Writers’ Community

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Joe

O-Dark-Thirty

by George Cramer

Forty years ago Agent Orange covered Pete head to foot. Not yet known as killers, his platoon cursed the mess left by the defoliate. Later he laughed at their ghost-like photo images. Now sixty-eight, he mused, I’m just another casualty of the Vietnam War. The doctors gave him six weeks.

View original post 376 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Odds and Ends

Writing a book?

Writing a book?.

Leave a comment

Filed under Odds and Ends

A national tribute to Bob Hope and the military.

A national tribute to Bob Hope and the military..

2 Comments

Filed under Odds and Ends

A Visit From Mystery Writer Marilyn Meredith

Mother Nature and Her Influence on My Writing

Murder in the Worst Degree

Though I’ve experienced several hurricanes, I’ve yet to use one in one my books and there’s a good reason. Both my mystery series are set in California and we don’t have hurricanes here.

The Rocky Bluff P.D. series is set in a small beach community in Southern California. I lived in the area for many years, and yes, we did have some winter rain storms and flooding. Living on the coast though, fog is so frequent that it plays a big part in nearly all of my RBPD mysteries.

Though new writers are often warned not to begin a book with the weather, using it to up the tension and to add another layer to the action works well.

waves 1
Murder in the Worst Degree does have its share of fog. It also has unusual surf which brings in a body—and that’s how it begins.

There is one more natural phenomenon that happens in California without warning and yes, it plays a part in Murder in the Worst Degree.

If you live in California, you can probably guess what that is, if not, you can read the book and find out what happens and how it affects the story.

Blurb for the lasts RBPD mystery, Murder in the Worst Degree: The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

Meredith in patio

Bio: F. M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith is the author of over 35 published books. She enjoys writing about police officers and their families and how what happens on the job affects the family and vice versa. Having several members of her own family involved in law enforcement, as well as many friends, she’s witnessed some of this first-hand.

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com/
Blog: http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.meredith/

Contest:
Once again I am offering the opportunity to have your name used as a character in a book if you are the person who comments on the most blogs during this tour for Murder in the Worst Degree.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting Evelyn Cullet at http://evelycullet.com/blog/

2 Comments

Filed under Writing