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...]

Life-Saving Moments of Art

Drawing of a nesting hen In August, the musical duo Alright Alright, composed of husband and wife Seth and China Kent, performed in our living room for their last house concert in a series of a dozen across the country.

As the musicians (described as “piano-based folk Americana with a healthy measure of art-song/cabaret”) set up their lighting and cigar-box guitars, a number of children played outside in a tree house garlanded with flowers. Cicadas electrified the maples. Adults drank cheap pinot and dipped pretzels in hummus. For many, the next day would be the first day of attending or teaching school. Already, it was a bittersweet, beauty-haunted evening.

And then the couple sang.

With her rich, soulful voice and his tender harmonies, China and Seth filled our small space with songs about quirky lovers, a dying father, child soldiers, and Mary, mother of Jesus. Our usually empty living room couch and chairs radiated with an unlikely assortment of friends and neighbors who just minutes before had been strangers. The immediate, shared intimacy of participating in this music together was palpable: communion, healing, and worship.

[Read more...]

Becoming Food

By Elizabeth Duffy

13430047155_25a7d296d1_zAt five a.m. this morning, my husband woke me while taking money from my wallet to buy donuts for himself and our fourth child who was to accompany him to the lumberyard. He was buying wood to build a picnic table and a couple of porch swings.

My husband shouldn’t be driving a car. He shouldn’t be making things with wood yet. He had shoulder surgery several weeks ago, and at this point, his arm should be immobilized ninety percent of the time. He’s on short-term disability, home from work for an entire month, and he’s bored silly, so immobilization couldn’t last. It barely lasted a week.

Now he’s making furniture and renovating the storm windows. If he gets on a ladder, I’ll scream. And that should stop him. I think it really will.

It’s been interesting having him home all day. For the first week I gave him sponge baths, made him eggs, brought him entertainments, and took leisurely walks with him in the park. It was heaven. I thought I might amputate his legs, and keep him here with me all the time as my special patient. How delightful it was to serve, to experience his gratitude and dependency. [Read more...]

I Found Him at Subway

By John Bryant

subwayI found him at Subway, an old man in a brown jacket, boots, jogging pants, standing in the small space between the table and deli counter.

He shut his eyes so he could hide himself under them, in a place where the cold and his age couldn’t find him. Eyes closed tight so he wouldn’t fall out of his eyes and land in the Subway, in his body, like a fish flopping in a bucket. There was no one else there. I stood in the silence he’d made in the room.

His face relaxed as he fell all the way into himself, the only place inside him that was bigger and quieter than the restaurant and his entire life. It was his peace.

He stood under a jet of warm air when the Subway heater came on. He lifted his face toward the ceiling as the warm air pulled the damp out of his coat and asked him gently to return to who he was when he was eighty and dirty and in a Subway. His lips searched the heat until they became a smile. He opened his eyes and found me looking at him. [Read more...]