Sunday 28 April 2024

B.F. and Me by Lucia Berlin

A literary genius? Possibly.

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. I am drastically falling behind with reviews and need to catch up fast before many of these stories, even the really good ones like "B.F. and Me" by Lucia Berlin, fade from memory. She's a new discovery and it is safe to say, that I can't wait to read more of her work. Berlin's sentences bounce along at a brisk pace with tremendous energy, immediacy and wit but somehow manages to maintain a soft quality--light, airy and delicate that is oddly charming. Within the confined canvas of the short-story form, her ability to convey the complexities of human emotions and relationships through a light sketch is worthy of admiration.

The premise is quite simple: a lonely older woman has a crush on an eccentric, rough-looking handyman tasked with repairing her bathroom floor. That's it. Although this might sound like a cliché plot device in a pornographic movie, the author circumvents such expectations. There certainly exists an underlying sexual tension between the two characters but the emphasis here is on elevating the mundane into the profound through sharp observational humor. For example, "Bad smells can be nice. A faint odor of skunk in the woods. Horse manure at the races." These "bad smells" are amusing in their contradictions and from a certain perspective, could actually be true. Or, what about this funny passage: "He said he could probably use some of that air of mine. I told him he should get him a tank but he said he was afraid he'd blow himself up smoking." The author unleashes a barrage of comedic and razor-sharp zingers that further contribute to the fast-paced narrative. The snappy dialogue crackles with authenticity and delightful quirkiness. What truly distinguishes Berlin's writing, however, is the breakneck speed at which the narrative unfolds, propelled by a succinct and dynamic storytelling style. 

From my research, Lucia Berlin often incorporated autobiographical details into her writing. Similar to the protagonist, she also lived in Boulder Colorado and faced various health issues such as requiring an oxygen tank for many years until her final days. This lends an unparalleled authenticity, relatability and emotional resonance to her stories, illuminating the struggles of everyday life. By drawing on her own experiences, the social realism is imbued with a sense of verisimilitude and genuine emotions but still remains very funny.

Lucia Berlin is just an absolute joy to read and it is a shame that she never received proper recognition during her lifetime. Stay tuned for a weekly retrospective where I plan on reviewing several other stories from her excellent collection, "A Manual for Cleaning Woman" that was published posthumously. 

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