Lucia Berlin

It's a funny kind of feeling. A friend is telling you about this terrific writer, of whom you've never heard, insisting that although she died in 2004 and you've never heard of her, you really ought to read this 400-page book of short stories. So you're a little bit piqued, because how could they be that good and you not know about it, but the book's there and you give it a try. and then that wave washes over you - how could I be so stupid? Why offer any resistance at all to something as varied, as talented, as witty as this? She's like a streetwise Alice Munro, subtle in observation of detail and character, but tougher and more direct. There's stuff in here about drink and drug addiction which feels totally convincing, but she's not showing off or trying to rub your nose in the dirt. She's telling you how it is - for this person, and that person, and that situation. Such variety, and some of them really short - just a few pages, they do their job, and she moves on to something else.  the collection is called A Manual for Cleaning Women. Stephen Emerson, who put it together, concludes his introduction like this   - "Myself, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to read her." No, I hadn't heard of her either, but he's right.