Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 2


By Jenny Shank

a manual for cleaning womenContinued from yesterday.

Catholic imagery appears throughout Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, the posthumous selected stories that has brought her singular fiction out of obscurity.

The magnificent “El Tim,” a story about a charismatic adolescent Mexican-American boy who disrupts a Catholic school with his sly behavior, begins: “A nun stood in each classroom door, black robes floating into the hall with the wind.” The grade school nuns keep perfect order, but the middle school ones have a harder time: “They could not use awe or love like the grade school nuns. Their recourse was impregnability, indifference to the students who were their duty and their life.” [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 1

By Jenny Shank


In September, Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection of selected short stories A Manual for Cleaning Women hit the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.

Vice called Lucia Berlin “the greatest American writer you’ve never heard of.”

Marie Claire predicted that this “highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult [Berlin] into a household name.”

And John Williams wrote in the New York Times, “She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”

I count myself as part of that “modest audience” who was lucky to know Berlin and her work before her death in 2004. I met Berlin when she was my teacher in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Colorado, and I was immediately taken by her as a writer and as a person. [Read more...]

Brush With a Famous Writer

By Ann Conway

airportI was walking down a concourse in the Philly airport when I looked up to see the Famous Writer staring down at me. Actually at first glance I was sure I was looking at the British actor, Bill Nighy. But it was not. It was him, a well-known literary writer who had moved to Maine ten years ago.

I was stunned, but kept on walking to the food court, where I ate a seven-dollar hot dog and thought about the writer. It was strange to see someone famous, especially someone from Maine. I was already back there in my mind, feeling safe with all the stolid types waiting at the nearby gate.

I knew he traveled far and wide; his writing was all about looking for something—the American soul? About this, I was not sure. But I knew the search was his concern.

I had considerations about him. I had last seen him at a reading I attended years before when I lived in Portland. Perhaps that was how he remembered me, although the reading was full of other middle-aged women. Later I read one of his short stories, in which he remarked, “Women who go to lectures always want something.” [Read more...]

Dr. Seuss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Kathleen L. Housley

mr-brown-can-buzzI am reading a biography of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in 1945 for his role in the plot to kill Hitler.

Suddenly the door opens and my two-year-old grandson, Alex, bounces in. Seeing the book, he attempts to climb into my lap so I can read to him as well. I put down the biography, pick him up, and select Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, which is in the pile of books beside my chair along with Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, shifting instantly from the lead-weight of Nazism to the whimsy of Dr. Seuss.

Mr. Brown is an imitator extraordinaire of sounds. He can moo so well that a wide-eyed cow with blue horns looks on in stunned amazement. He can make the tick-tock sounds of a clock so convincingly that the clock changes its angle of repose out of respect. He is adept at the buzz of bees who, like the cow, look happily surprised by hearing their own sound emerge from a human mouth. [Read more...]

Wonder Woman, Flying, Part 2: Beauty and Sacrament

By Brad Fruhauff

Continued from yesterday.

wonderwoman2In this scene from Batman’s first meeting with Wonder Woman in Trinity, you can feel the writer Matt Wagner’s personality trumping the artist; though it doesn’t really add much to the narrative, Wagner can’t help but let Bats make a crack about her costume.

Superheroines’ costumes are perpetually controversial, it seems (perhaps because few artists have done much to better protect their heroines), and I sympathize with those who critique the way women are often overly sexualized in ways men are not. I don’t agree that the antidote is more sexualized male bodies. That strikes me as the kind of capitalistic, individualistic, hedonistic thinking that led to the hypersexualization of all bodies at the magazine racks. But at the same time, I also don’t believe we need more realistic bodies or body armor in all cases.

Take Wonder Woman flying, for instance. Yes, it stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking to put her in a strapless one-piece “armor” (and yes, it is frequently referred to as armor; if you look, you’ll see the chest-piece and waistband are, in fact, metal). Some newer series and geek blogs have tried to re-imagine her costume in more realistic terms with some success, but increased realism comes at the cost of bringing Diana closer down to earth. [Read more...]