In ‘So Long’ the story of a couple’s relationship is framed around their years of ongoing phone calls. “I love to hear Max say hello,” it begins. “I called him when we were new lovers, adulterers… We’ve been divorced for many years.” I assign this story every time I teach and still, it never fails makes me weep. What moves me is Berlin’s portrait of the friendship that has endured after a marriage has ended, and her depiction of love as one long conversation. The seamless way Berlin moves between the narrator’s present, caring for her terminally ill sister in Mexico, and the heat of her love affair many years earlier with Max, is masterful. As with all her stories, Berlin has a gift for reflection without recrimination, and handling the darker aspects of life—like cancer, or addiction—with grace and levity.
First published in So Long: Stories 1987-1992, Black Sparrow Press, 1993. Collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women: Lucia Berlin Selected Stories, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015