A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin



A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin had quite a life. She was brought up in mining camps in Alaska and the Midwest, lived in Texas, Santiago, New York City, Colorado, Oakland and more. Her stories are drawn from her life. The story about the dentist pulling his own teeth, that’s inspired by her grandfather. Those stories set in the hospitals – she worked as a hospital ward clerk. That thing about cleaning women, well, she was one herself, among the many other jobs she took up over the years. And there are stories of death and dying, because her sister died of cancer and she spent those final years with her.

She has a very direct way of writing, that it often feels like she’s there talking to you. Her observations about life are sharp and sometimes funny, other times just painful and sad.

 “But what bothers me is that I only accidentally noticed them. What else have I missed? How many times in my life have I been, so to speak, on the back porch, not the front porch? What would have been said to me that I failed to hear? What love might there have been that I didn’t feel?”

I think her friend Elizabeth Geoghegan put it best in an article in the Paris Review:

To read her is to get lost in her voice. Her stories make you feel like you’re gossiping with her at her table.

Lucia Berlin died in 2004 and it was in 2015 that this collection of her stories was published. It has outsold all her previous books combined.


  • A Manual for Cleaning Ladies. Illustrations by Michael Myers. 1977.
  • Angels Laundromat: Short Stories.  1981.
  • Legacy.  1983. Illustrated by Michael Bradley.
  • Phantom Pain: Sixteen Stories. 1984.
  • Safe & Sound. 1988. Illustrated by Frances Butler.
  • Homesick: New & Selected Stories. 1990.
  • So Long: Stories, 1987-1992. 1993.
  • Where I Live Now: Stories, 1993-1998. 1999.
  • A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories. Edited by Stephen Emerson. Foreword by Lydia Davis. 2015.


  1. Ah, I love this post. Been wanting to read this for so long. Reminding myself to grab a copy soon. 🙂 Thank you for writing this.


Comments are closed.