‘Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest’ by Sherman Alexie

I love stories about work. It’s how we spend so much of our lives, it seems there should be more fiction centering on it. Here, Marie looks back on her career as a motel maid, which Alexie’s prose—deceptively clean and unadorned itself—makes worthy of enshrinement. People like Marie usually pass beneath the notice of many of us. Not out of malice, but only because it’s so easy for us not to see the workers emptying wastebaskets, picking up dirty towels at the periphery of our vision. But Marie, of course, being a person, has as vivid an inner life as anyone, measured out not only in tidied hotel rooms but also in the comings and goings of co-workers, including one beloved friend who seems to abruptly vanish, in love affairs, in the damage her work does to her body, and in conversations with her priest in which she attempts to make sense of the human behavior she bears witness to in all its beautiful and hideous facets. “Father James,” she tells him, “God is mysterious, sure, but sometimes I feel like people are even more mysterious.”

First published in The New Yorker, 5 June, 2017, and available to read here