Lu­cia Ber­lin Evening in Par­adise

Pi­cador, 352pp, $34.99

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

There’s a scene in Lu­cia Ber­lin’s story “Lost in the Lou­vre” when the nar­ra­tor dis­cov­ers a pre­vi­ously missed wing of the gallery. We an­tic­i­pate some rev­e­la­tions, but in­stead we get “lovely mun­dane ob­jects”. There will be no mir­a­cles here, Ber­lin in­sists, and then comes the rub: “Like death, this sec­tion was not ex­traor­di­nary. It was so un­ex­pected.” Grief shad­ows this woman – a Ber­lin stand-in, like most of her pro­tag­o­nists – across Paris. She vis­its Balzac’s house, the vil­lage that in­spired Proust’s Com­bray, the graves of Baude­laire and de Beau­voir and Sartre. But these pil­grim­ages don’t of­fer tran­scen­dence from mor­tal­ity: “Still I sat there, look­ing back on my life ... It seemed I had passed through it as I had the Lou­vre.”

Ber­lin’s short sto­ries con­tend with ad­dic­tion, lone­li­ness and class as the back­drop to quo­tid­ian life. Her fic­tion tra­verses New Mex­ico, New York and Chile, as she did, pro­gress­ing from poor kids run­ning wild

(“The Mu­si­cal Van­ity Boxes”) to San­ti­ago so­ci­ety where shady of­fi­cials take teenage lovers (“An­dando: A Gothic Ro­mance”) with verisimil­i­tude. Ber­lin isn’t a tourist among the cast of booz­ers, grifters and women un­moored.

There’s hu­mour in the grave­yard and beauty in the bro­ken glass, not least of all in Ber­lin’s sub­lime, un­adorned prose. Here she de­scribes a de­pressed mother’s rou­tine in “Cherry Blos­som Time”: “... that af­ter­noon sun flashed from the chrome on the stove, the nee­dle broke on the ma­chine. From the streets came sounds of brak­ing, scrap­ings. Sil­ver clat­tered on the drain board, a knife screeched against the enamel. Cassandra chopped pars­ley. One/two. One/two.” Or in “Some­times in Sum­mer”, where two girls play in the shadow of smoke­stacks, the fumes thick enough to make them cry, the scene is in­fused with “lovely blues and greens and the iri­des­cent vi­o­let and acid green of gaso­line in pud­dles”.

When Ber­lin’s long-over­looked work was an­thol­o­gised in A Man­ual for Clean­ing Women, she earned com­par­isons to dirty re­al­ists such as Ray­mond Carver and Je­sus’ Son-era De­nis John­son. Each time her women screw up, elope with an­other ar­se­hole artist, stay up all night drink­ing and still make house be­fore the kids wake, it’s both ev­ery­day and ex­traor­di­nary. Any fears Evening in Par­adise would be Ber­lin’s B-sides are quelled. Her sto­ries gain cu­mu­la­tive power, build­ing mean­ing and com­pli­ca­tion even when it feels we’ve heard them be­fore, for: “One word, one ges­ture, can change your en­tire life, can break ev­ery­thing or make it whole.” TM

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.