Cleaning women know everything

I remember when I read John Williams’ Stoner, a great novel, full of a melancholy and restrained emotions. There is something extremely normal in the protagonist’s way of living, and at the same time a bleeding alienation to the world.

The rediscovery of Lucia Berlin’s short stories, has been compared with the rediscovery of William’s novels. Both had been forgotten, but given new life through republishing (and marketing campaigns of course). Except the rediscovery, there are no obvious similarities between Berlin and Williams, in my view.

Lucia Berlin

I read Berlin’s collection A Manual for Cleaning Women this summer. And it’s an amazing book. The title of the collection is also the title of one of the short stories, a brilliant text. The protagonist works as a cleaning woman in different homes, and in the text she gives advises to other cleaning women – for example how to handle the employer’s different demands and suspicions. Don’t steal coins or jewelry, they might be planted just to check the reliability of the cleaner. No, this cleaning lady goes for the drugs, especially the sleeping pills. There is something hilarious in her voice, but under the surface we can hear the tears from a major grief.

It’s a huge difference between Berlin and for example the American Prince of minimalism Raymond Carver or the Russian Tsar of short stories Anton Chekhov. Berlin is talking, chatting. And you can really feel the author’s own experiences behind the words. It’s a kind of autofiction.

The title of the bathroom shelf “Cleaning women know everything” is a quote from A Manual for cleaning women. The shelf is an interpretation of the short story. Two structures, the boxes, or perhaps flats, are connected with a manipulated, deformed green stair, which is the journey from the consciousness above to the unconsciousness, or the basement, below – the always attending grief.

The shelf is made of pigmented aspen, and every corner is carefully jointed with half-blind dovetails.

Cleaning Women know Everything


Fredrik Sandblad || 2016-08-09