The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

This book. Wow.

Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.

The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’, Sandra cleans places others dare not go – homicide, suicide and death scenes; meth labs; homes of hoarders; and places ravaged by water, mould and filth.

Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced their same sorrows. Continue reading

Advertisements

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – a literary mixtape

It’s had a squillion reviews on Goodreads; it was a re-read for me; and it’s packed with pithy one-liners – all good reasons for a literary mixtape for Jay McInerney’s eighties classic, Bright Lights, Big City.

If you haven’t already read it, get on it – it’s a brilliant snapshot of grief in its denial phase, set against eighties New York with its largesse, its cocaine, its filth, its beautiful people.

4/5 It holds up.

——————————————–

Saturday Night / Cold Chisel

The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unravelled nerve endings. Continue reading

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

I’m trying not to let my MWF-JCO experience influence my thoughts on Oates’s much-admired family saga, We Were the Mulvaneys.

The story of the Mulvaney family spans twenty-five years and is told from the perspective of the youngest son, Judd. In the beginning, the family is blessed – a successful business, a sprawling farm property (with ponies), and popular children (a cheerleader, a football star and a science-whiz-kid). A single incident becomes a turning point in the fortunes of the Mulvaneys and bit by bit, everything (and everyone) falls apart.

There were exquisite nuggets of truth in JCO’s words that stopped me in my tracks, words that got to the heart of a matter so succinctly that I couldn’t help but admire her deftness – ‘Nothing between humans is uncomplicated’ and ‘But you can’t disappoint me because I don’t love you’ and ‘There are different kinds of homesickness to fit different kinds of families.Continue reading

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

Despite the fact that The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida is written in the second-person (because truly, YOU would think YOU would want to put hot pokers in YOUR eyes reading so many YOUS), this slip of a novel hooks YOU from the outset.

You’re still wet from the rain. You should have brought an umbrella. A psychiatrist friend of yours once told you that a telltale sign of a mentally unstable person is she’s never dressed appropriately for the weather. Continue reading

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout hardly needs introduction – it extends some of the characters mentioned in My Name Is Lucy Barton, and is structured much like Olive Kitteridge – interconnected short stories, to be read in order (some stories are resolved through other characters’ chapters later in the book, so you do need to read sequentially). It’s not necessary to read Lucy Barton first (or at all) in order to enjoy Anything is Possible but I reckon the book is enhanced by knowing Lucy’s story.

Despite the focus on the interior lives of individual people in small town America, Strout addresses two universal themes in Anything is Possible – that we are shaped by our past, and that we all want to be heard. Each character gives a different perspective on these themes, and the result is subtlety layered (without once feeling repetitive or contrived).

She did not say, and only fleetingly did she think: And you have always taken up so much space in my heart that it has sometimes felt to be a burden. Continue reading

Sisters by Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck’s latest novella, Sisters, opens with a quote from Christopher Nicholson’s Winter“First and second wives are like sisters.” The quote sets the scene for the unnamed narrator’s story, who describes life with her new husband, his two teenagers, and the unbanishable presence of his first wife, ominously known only as ‘she’.

A partnership that stems from a betrayal is on uneven ground from the outset – history is on the side of the ex; there will always be nagging doubts about trust; and comparisons will be made. Continue reading

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

There’s pride, there’s prejudice, and there’s also text break-ups, reality tv, ‘hate sex’, Bitcoin, jogging, and Ivy League schools in Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s fabulous, frothy take on the Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice.

The brilliance in Sittenfeld’s rendering of Pride is that she stayed absolutely true to the story (a ridiculous social-climber plots to marry-off her five daughters to suitable, wealthy men), and yet made it very much her own.

All five  girls had then gone on to private colleges before embarking on what could euphemistically be called non-lucrative careers, though in the case of some sisters, non-lucrative non-careers was a more precise descriptor.

The story is set in Cincinnati (Sittenfeld’s hometown) and we find Liz as a magazine journalist; Jane, a yoga instructor; Mary doing her third online masters degree; and Kitty and Lydia gadding about eating high-protein meals and attending CrossFit. Continue reading

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Without bringing up the whole Lionel Shriver debate again (and Bill has the best summary of that), I fear Tom Perrotta was writing about stuff that he probably should have left alone in his latest novel, Mrs Fletcher.

In brief, it’s the story of Eve Fletcher, divorced, mother to Brendan and director of a seniors centre. Note that Brendan is a sexist, homophobic jock, who has no intention of changing his party-hard ways as he begins college. Continue reading

Two autobiographies by Drew

“I had my first drink at age nine, began smoking marijuana at ten and at twelve took up cocaine.” 

Drew Barrymore’s legal emancipation from her mother at age 14, her self-driven ‘rebranding’ as teen-seductress, and her multiple engagements and three short marriages were still to come. So it should make for some wild reading, right? Actually, not really. Continue reading