Evening in Paradise: More Stories

Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise: More Stories
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Evening in Paradise: More Stories

Lucia Berlin

The publication of A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin’s dazzling collection of short stories, marked the rediscovery of a writer whose talent had gone unremarked by many.

The incredible reaction to Lucia’s writing - her ability to capture the beauty and ugliness that coexist in everyday lives, the extraordinary honesty and magnetism with which she draws on her own history to breathe life into her characters - included calls for her contribution to American literature to be as celebrated as that of Raymond Carver.

Evening in Paradise is a careful selection from the remaining Berlin stories - a jewel box follow-up for Lucia Berlin’s hungry fans.

Review

I read Evening in Paradise in a single sitting, mesmerised by the places and characters, and what they revealed about the cultures of the times. Names recur but are intermingled. A character from one story will emerge in a different story, but with a different name, in a different place. Yet as you traverse the tapestry the book weaves, a single luminous thread ducks and bobs brilliantly throughout, holding it all together; a vibrant, generous, female character, gentle, strong and free, full of love, sorrow and mirth: meet Lucia Berlin.

Berlin’s life – or a version of it she wanted to imagine and present – lies in the foundation of every story. Semi-autobiographical, her characters travel through all the places Berlin did. We meet three husbands, four children, and a woman who writes while losing and finding herself in bottles of Jim Beam. It becomes impossible to confidently draw a line between fiction and autobiography. Did she turn herself into a modern artwork for her first husband (he was a sculptor, just like in the story)? Did she deal with a corpse off the coast of Mexico?

If characters Lucha, Laura, Maria, Maya, Clare and Maggie are one and the same, the book is almost as much a novel as it is short stories – one with a fascinating structure. Lucia Berlin is dead and the structure is a pastiche of somebody else’s construction, but I’m not sure it matters (didn’t Roland Barthes explain the death of the author in the ’60s?). Or perhaps it is more a memoir. As it so happens, an official memoir is also due out this month. It might even demystify some of this blurring between fact and fiction. It won’t reduce the resonance of Berlin’s writing. Besotted as I am by the woman that is Lucha-Laura-Maria-Maya-Clare-Maggie-Lucia, I can’t help but think it impossible you won’t be too.


Leanne Hermosilla works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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