During her lifetime, the 2004 deceased Lucia Berlin published 76 short stories. It was not until the posthumously published "A Manual for Cleaning Women" collection in 2015 that her work provided the widespread excitement and recognition she deserves.
Since the belated recognition of their fiction, readers have become accustomed to Berlin's lyrical, almost staccato prose and the enlightening, intimate feeling of their stories. The writing of Berlin is dull, syncopated – and offers almost uninvolved small, eye-catching details and reduced images.
Readers who have discovered (or rediscovered) Berlin's work in 2015 will welcome the release of a second posthumous short story collection "Evening in Paradise" as well as a non-fiction accompanying book "Welcome Home". In these two books we see the way Berlin's fiction and nonfiction come together and mirror each other. Long before the literary world dealt with the complexities of Rachel Cusk's work and the cadenzas of a novel, Berlin transformed the biography alchemically into moving art.
The stories in "Evening in Paradise" have the well-known influence of Berlin – the cut prose, the intriguing details, the signal one-liners or the repeated words digging into you. Berlin's prose reads like poetry and feels like a memory. Abusive moments are telescoped into frivolous, suggestive exchanges that directly appeal to the senses: "The brothers got up, hugged, and then the three sat quietly. The fire. Rain against the windows. Blur of the yellow aroma at the lake. "Berlin's dry humor makes its sparing language:" He had a civil war face, a kind of hillbilly and Hager, sunken eyes, a sullen mouth, bad teeth. "
Along with the newly published stories, "Welcome Home" contains an unfinished memoir list of the many places where Berlin lived next to the letters to the poet Ed Dorn and the painter and sculptor Helene Dorn. Throughout are family photos.
As in her stories, Berlin does not care about the preamble or the elaborate scene in her non-fiction book. instead she lives quietly in elliptical, strange moments:
"Colts run on pastures, a small town awakens. A woman in a yard hanging leaves on the line. She opened a clothespin with her teeth and waved to the train.
The Pullman bed folds up even tidier than a Murphy bed. The bed consists of two beds, one upper and one lower bed. The top sleeping space is good if you really want to be in a train and concentrate on all sounds or if you want to feel alone. You will sleep more because you will not look out the window. "
The non-fiction literature of Berlin makes her genius clear to take personal, idiosyncratic scenes from her memory and make them a fiction that appeals to us all. By "Welcome Home" we understand that Berlin's fiction has catapulted their memories, catalyzed surprising short stories. Berlin transforms memory into fiction.
In the story "The Adobe House with a Tin Roof" Berlin portrays a naive new woman: "She was determined to have a good marriage, to be a good woman. She was only nineteen and had no idea what it meant to be a good woman. She did something like the hot part of the cup when she gave him coffee and offered him the handle. "In the story" Lead Street, Albuquerque "we encounter a similar fictional character:" He even talked her new. , , She was sweet and fresh. Nice, with curly brown hair and blue eyes, in jeans and a pink T-shirt. But after moving in the hair, they were dyed black and actually ironed. She wore black make-up and only black and white clothes. , , He let her sleep on her stomach, nose flat against the pillow. Her upturned nose was a slight imperfection. "These moments become more powerful than 'Welcome Home' reveals that they are practically lifted off the pages of Berlin's life:" I held the hot part of the cup and gave it the handle. I ironed his jockey shorts to keep them warm. I always tell these things and everybody laughs, but they are true. I dressed, as he told me, always in black or white. My long hair was dyed black and ironed every morning. I wore a strong eye make-up and no lipstick. He let me sleep, lying on the pillow, hoping to correct my "major mistake," a raised nose. "
Not only does Berlin use his life to create fiction, she also takes real scenes and fictionalizes them in the course of stories from different perspectives, so that we recognize key moments as multi-faceted. In her fictional project, it's really about how we look and then we can look at normal life again. Although "Evening in Paradise" is inspired by Berlin's life, the narrators are not always the proxy of the author, but rather a viewer who looks at this character. Two stories that seem to be closest to the life of Berlin are actually voiced by the less direct third person. In "Lead Street, Albuquerque," the meaning of the Berlin biography becomes all the more compelling in the flat, almost clinical voice of the omniscient narrator: "She had moved all her life, her father was a mining engineer, her mother was sick or crazy. They had the feeling that no one had ever told her if they had grown up, were part of a family, or were a woman, one reason why she was so quiet was that she was watching to see how everything was have been done. "
Through the lens of what we know about the nonfiction of her life, we can see how Berlin tries on perspectives. She returns to overdetermined scenes in a series of stories, revealing something unexpected each time.
Berlin's work challenges us to rethink how many lives can be thought of. Her nonfiction allows us access to her process while her letters puzzle over issues of the craft. "Welcome Home" shows how much of their lives flow through their fiction, and the restraint and power of the stories becomes clearer. These two new volumes show how fiction can be compatible with the fact, and we wonder how Berlin turns art into memory and nostalgia.
Maggie Trappis a writer who lives in New Zealand.
From Lucia Berlin
FSG. 176 pp $ 25.
Evening in paradise
From Lucia Berlin
FSG. 256 p. 26 $.