‘Grief’ by Lucia Berlin

This Lucia Berlin story, about two sisters who go away together, is one that I have returned to many times over the years. Partly because of the writing style and the craft of it, partly also simply because of the storyline. I love the way it opens, almost like a film, a wide shot of the hotel where the sisters are staying, then the guests, then all the sights and sounds that bring the story to life, and make it so vivid and electric as is Berlin’s style. There’s a couple of lines here I underscored years ago that I just love for the sounds: the “Snap snap of dealt cards. Mrs Wacher’s hmms. Two no trump. The sizzle of the surf, ice cubes in their glasses.” What I like so much is the way the setting is created, and how from there, the camera moves and then we settle on the two sisters themselves. It’s so atmospheric, rich in description, yet not overdone. I quite like all the gossipy hotel guests too, watching the two sisters and wondering what they are doing together. I find stories about sisters endlessly fascinating; this one is no exception.

Collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women, Picador, 2015

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