2015 might be termed the year of the famous lost manuscript given that new old writings by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and Dr. Seuss have come to light.
Now comes another twist, the reemergence of an author somewhat lost to time, Lucia Berlin.
Don’t know who she is? You are not alone. For decades only a handful of people were aware of her work, most notably championed by short story master Lydia Davis.
Berlin was born in Alaska in 1936 and lived in multiple locales, from Chile to NYC. She had a hard childhood, was an alcoholic, and lived a peripatetic, rowdy life, according to The New York Times in a Books section profile.
She wrote short stories that were thinly veiled slices of her own life. Her first was published when she was 24, in Saul Bellow’s magazine The Nobel Savage, according to the NYT. Small presses published collections of her stories at various times after that but she largely stayed below the radar, dying in 2004.
FSG is betting on her again with A Manual for Cleaning Women (Macmillan/FSG; OverDrive Sample), a collection of 43 stories that remind Elizabeth McCracken, she tells the NYT “of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, which is the most beloved book of stories I know from the past 20 years among writers.”
The collection is getting strong and glowing attention. Entertainment Weekly gives it an A saying, that the stories are written “in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you’ll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again.”
O the Oprah magazine made it the top pick in their “16 Books to Curl Up With This Fall,” saying the collection “reilluminates a neglected talent.”
The New Yorker has a piece on Berlin by Davis who says that the “stories make you forget what you were doing, where you are, even who you are.”
John Williams, who wrote The New York Times profile, weighs in with “Her stories speak in a voice at once direct and off-kilter, sincere and wry. They are singular, but also immediately accessible to anyone raised on the comic searching of Lorrie Moore or the offbeat irony of George Saunders.”
Holds are strong and the collection has risen to #52 on Amazon sales rankings.
UPDATE: The daily NYT‘s critic Dwight Garner reviews it Aug 19. While full of praise for the author (“Reading Ms. Berlin, I often found myself penciling curses of appreciation in the margins”), he thinks many of the lesser stories should have been left out.