Evening in Paradise: Book summary and reviews of Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise

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by Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin X
Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2019
    256 pages
    Genre: Short Stories/Essays

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Book Summary

A collection of previously uncompiled stories from the short-story master and literary sensation Lucia Berlin.

A collection of previously uncompiled stories from the short-story master and literary sensation Lucia Berlin. In 2016, Picador published the paperback edition of A Manual for Cleaning Women, a posthumous story collection by a relatively unknown writer, to wild, widespread acclaim. It was a New York Times bestseller; the paper's Book Review named it one of the Ten Best Books of the year; and NPR, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and other outlets gave the book rave reviews.

Evening in Paradise is a careful selection from the remaining Berlin stories - a jewel box follow-up for Lucia Berlin's hungry fans.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Do you regularly read short stories, and if so, what in particular do you like about the genre?
  2. Which of the stories was your favorite and why? Which was your least favorite, and why?
  3. Did it impact the way you read the stories knowing that the author had died? How about the fact that although not necessarily autobiographical the stories were "close enough for horseshoes"?
  4. In the preface, Berlin's son Mark relates that they often "laughed about the first precept of Buddhism: life is suffering. And the Mexican attitude that life is cheap, but it sure can be fun." Did you find this reflected in Berlin's work? Do you agree with either statement, neither statement, or with both?
  5. What recurring themes did you find running throughout the stories?
  6. If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
  7. Based on her stories, how do you think Berlin views the relationships children have with the adults in their lives, including parents, aunts and guardians? Do you agree with her assessment?
  8. Throughout the book, many of the men and women depicted are unfaithful to their partners. What do you think the author is saying about romantic relationships and marriage?
  9. What element of Berlin's writing style did you enjoy the most? Does her writing recall any other authors to mind?
  10. Are there any specific quotes in the novel that you found meaningful?
  11. Berlin reuses some names across stories, while other stories use different names for the same woman. For example, in "La Barca del la Ilusion" the heroine is named Maya while in "The Wives" her name is Laura, although it seems the same woman is featured in both; and the children in both "My Life is an Open Book" and "Noel, 1974" are named Keith, Ben, Nathan and Joel, yet their mother is Claire in the former story and Maggie in the latter. Why do you think the author used this technique?
  12. Why do you think the entire collection was named after the story, "Evening in Paradise"?
  13. The first two stories highlight specific childhood memories. Do these instances call to mind memories from your pre-teen years?
  14. In "Sometime in Summer", "Mamie did not trust foreigners and Hope's grandmother hated Americans," yet the girls were friends. Why do you suppose that was? Do you recall any childhood friendships that stretched across racial or ethnic lines?
  15. In "Endado", the narrator speaks about children who are forced to move often, such as "army brats and children of diplomats." She goes on to write, "The problem for such children is not being isolated or always new, but that they adapt so quickly and so well." What do you think she means by this? Do you agree with the statement?
  16. In "Endado", both Pepe and Xavier are wealthy yet aware of the disparities in the world; they each seek, in their own way, to make a difference. It seems as if the loudest voices for change are often those of young adults. Why do you suppose this is?
  17. In "Itinerary", the narrator talks about making a time capsule with her friends when they were young. Her friends' lives did follow their predictions, while hers did not. Could you have predicted the trajectory of your life? Which aspects were as you imagined they'd be and which weren't?
  18. In "Itinerary", why do you think the narrator's parents had someone meet her at each airport transfer? Was this necessary? What did you think of the selection of women who were asked to meet her? Do you recall your first trip away from home without your parents?
  19. "Lead Street, Albuquerque" features the marriage of artist Rex and the young woman, Maria. What did you think of their relationship? Do you think Rex ever intended to take her and the baby to Italy with him, even before he knew she was pregnant?
  20. What did you think of the story "Noel, Texas, 1956", narrated by a woman named Tiny from her roof? Was she justified in her anger? Did you find the ending, where an errant Christmas toy dropped from an airplane killing an elderly shepherd, funny or tragic?
  21. In "Cherry Blossom Time", stay-at-home mom Cassandra begins to fixate on the postman's routine, realizing her life, too, is stuck in a rut. What did you think of her husband's reaction to her frustration? Do you consider yourself someone who sticks to a routine, or are you more of a free spirit?
  22. "La Barca de la Ilusion" speaks to the power of addiction; even after Maya's husband Buzz has been clean for a long period of time, the reappearance of his drug dealer brings a relapse. Maya doesn't think things will get better even after the dealer's death. Do you think she should have given the situation another chance or was she right to leave? What do you think you would have done in similar circumstances?
  23. In "Noel, 1974", Zelda is upset that her daughter has come out as gay. Maggie tells her, "Seems like I wouldn't care if any of my sons were gay. On the other hand, if one of them became a cop or a Hare Krishna I might blow my brains out." What kinds of expectations do we place on our children, fairly or unfairly? Are there lifestyle choices your children might make that you'd find difficult to accept?
  24. In "Our Brother's Keeper", both Sara's best friend and her ex-husband say they knew Sara's lover was bad news, and feel guilty about her death. Do you think we bear responsibility for our inaction, when we know someone we care about is making an error? Do you think Sara would have listened if others had expressed concern?
  25. The last three stories are about an older woman traveling the world alone as a tourist. Did you find this adventurous/brave or foolhardy? Have you ever taking a vacation by yourself? Would you, if presented with the opportunity?

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Media Reviews

"Berlin is not only a soulful chronicler of the lost corners of America, whose semi-autobiographical stories brim with red caliche clay, arroyos, drainage ditches and smelter towns. She is not only a writer of vivid bursts of language ... She is also a distinctly female voice, a raspy Marlene Dietrich ... In death, she became the patron saint of every coastal cool girl, every exhausted mother, every daydreamer of plane tickets, every chaser of her next broken heart." - Nadja Spiegelman, The New York Times Book Review

"Berlin was a writer of tender, chaotic and careworn short stories. Her work can remind you of Raymond Carver's or Grace Paley's or Denis Johnson's ... One thing that makes Berlin so valuable is her gift for evoking the sweetness and earnestness of young women who fall in love ... Berlin probably deserved a Pulitzer Prize ... She managed to write, beautifully, about the hard and the awkward things." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"The stories in Evening in Paradise have that familiar Berlin affect ― the clipped prose, the startling details, the signal one-liners or repeated words that burrow into you. Berlin's prose reads like poetry and feels like memory. Fraught moments are telescoped into spare, suggestive exchanges that directly appeal to the senses ... These two new volumes demonstrate how fiction might comport with fact, leaving us to marvel at how Berlin turns memory and nostalgia into art." - Maggie Trapp, The Washington Post

"[Berlin] is a master at capturing women in states of disintegration ... Much of the world that Berlin describes is harrowing for women, and yet her stories ... cheerfully refuse to erase either the women or the brutality that deranges them. Instead, she rips them up further and pastes them together again, making ruined, radiant chimeras summoned from an unfrequented corner of 20th-century America." - Jordan Kisner, The Atlantic

"Thank god for the posthumous revival of Lucia Berlin ― how sad it would be to have never experienced her distinctive, vibrant voice. Her characters are utterly captivating ... and her scenery envelops you. But it's the early stories, those that follow the meandering adventures of kids just trying to fill their days, that are most alive." - Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed (Best Books of Fall 2018)

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes. It's a work of remembrance of the kinds of people who might otherwise be forgotten ... there's not a single story in Evening in Paradise that's less than beautiful ... Evening in Paradise proves that Berlin's generous, beautiful spirit will endure in the literary world for decades to come." - Michael Schaub, NPR.org

"Once again [Berlin] makes original art from her chequered life ... When the words flowed, Berlin managed to perform small miracles with them. Whether describing lucky breaks or hard knocks, her prose is intense and intimate, at once disconcerting and entrancing. These two books should ensure that she is back for good." - The Economist

"[Evening in Paradise] reveals just how full a body of rich work Berlin left behind ... Time and again, the stories reveal that her subject wasn't domestic life but life itself, which for her often happened to be filtered through the domestic." - Ellie Robins, Los Angeles Times

"What molds the fiction is Berlin's artistic sensibility ― her global perspective, the shrewd compassion with which she scrutinizes her characters, and the absurdity ― not to mention the flora ― that populates the many landscapes of her world." - Emma Heath, San Francisco Chronicle

"This never-before-published memoir and new collection are cause for jubilation. In part because they make it clear Berlin's gifts were vast, complex, and full of tonal warmths ... Like Chekhov, Berlin was a beautiful framer of stories ..." - John Freeman, Boston Globe

"Berlin's gifts are not ones you have ever tried or been told to cultivate. The details she chooses are those you have purposely eliminated, with that hitch in your ear that tells you to keep everything timeless ... Berlin is telling us that you can use and reuse the raw moments, that the texture of life is to be taken seriously, that those spontaneous bubblings of experience will spark faith, belief, devotion for the same reason that springs of youth and holy fonts do: because they are cold and clear and inexhaustible, because we can drink them out of our hands." - Patricia Lockwood, London Review of Books

"Berlin is forensic in her quality of observation, and her prose rhythm is almost notational in its fluency." - Joanne O'Leary, Bookforum

"Prepare to fall in love all over again ... the cunning, beautiful creation of a genius of the form." - Kristin Iversen, NYLON

"Long before the current autofiction craze, Lucia Berlin was spinning her day-to-day into powerfully spare prose that ached with brutal authenticity ... these new volumes become a jigsaw-puzzle portrait of a long-neglected literary legend, baring the autobiographical material that filtered so forcefully into her fiction. The mystery of her fiction is not, it turns out, in the source of its inspiration. It is in how Berlin transformed her life into art that is as vital as the thing itself." ―Lauren Mechling, Vogue

"Reading [Berlin] in today's frenzied doomsday news flash feels like a vacation, a breath of fresh air. Despite the chatter and chaos, there is the promise of change tomorrow, be it good or bad." - Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair

"Every bit as generous and perceptive as A Manual for Cleaning Women ... Considered together, the two collections leave little doubt she is one of the greatest American short story writers of the 20th century ... These 22 stories show her startling range and unwavering devotion to remaining open, refusing to judge any of her characters, whether delinquent, conniving, or alcoholic." - Dylan Brown, Los Angeles Review of Books

"There's still plenty in Evening in Paradise to conjure the original thrill of reading Berlin." - Max Liu, Financial Times

"Some of the 22 stories here are wonderful; others nothing more than a collage of shimmering images. All feature her distinctive voice, which operates in the space between free verse and prose." - Ann Levin, Associated Press

"[Evening in Paradise] affirms Berlin as one of the more underrated writers of her time." - Entertainment Weekly

"Berlin's stories are remarkable for their dark humour, bright prose and audacious lack of structural integrity – if her collections were houses, their hallways would change direction without warning, and their rooms would be bright and dark at the same time ... The fiction in which she made her home does not descend into the dirt, or darkness, of urban alienation – it emerges from that dirt. Berlin wrote in pursuit of a sense of belonging, and her fiction is a homecoming." - Nina Ellis, Granta

"In Evening in Paradise―which reads like novel-in-stories―Berlin shows that she was a master of the short story. These pieces remind me of something like Mavis Gallant crossed with Roberto Bolaño―there's an acute, postwar, working-class milieu, crossed with such insight into the US/Mexico borderlands and Latin America (Berlin knew these areas so well). This book is so transportative, so wonderful." - Veronica Esposito, Lit Hub

"Anyone worried that Evening in Paradise might somehow be inferior to Manual is in for a pleasant surprise ...this new collection of stories showcases the same remarkable skill and pathos that Berlin fans have long cherished ... Berlin has a particular, albeit well-nuanced, sympathy for intelligent, outspoken women who, like herself, are struggling to get by." - Ryan Smernoff, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Berlin's stories, largely autobiographical tales of working class life in the American West, slipped beneath the radar in her lifetime but galvanized contemporary readers. Now we have a second, smaller volume that is every bit as good as its predecessor. If you've never read Berlin, now's your chance." - Tom Beer, Newsday

"The nimbleness with which Berlin moves between proximate feelings ... is what makes the work so ruthless, sympathetic, and comic all at once ... The autobiographical content of Berlin's stories doesn't undermine their artfulness, any more than their humor undermines the ugliness of the situations depicted. Rather, both sets of factors exist in searing, inimitable tension." - Annie Adams, The Sewanee Review

"The short story queen ... The stories are whip-smart and strangely funny, and you'll be thinking about them for days afterward." - Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle

"Read one of [Berlin's] powerful, authentic stories that peer right into the human condition, and you'll understand the hype." - Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29

"Blessedly, a second volume with 22 more stories is in no way second rate but rather features more seductive, sparkling autofiction ... No dead author is more alive on the page than Berlin: funny, dark, and so in love with the world." - Kirkus (starred review)

"Wonderful ... The collection is significant partly because it reveals the centrality of homesickness and geography to Berlin's work ... Berlin's writing achieves a dreamy, delightful effect as it provides a look back through time. This collection should further bolster Berlin's reputation as one of the strongest short story writers of the 20th century." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Prov[es] that [Berlin] should have been better known ... these works capture human relationships and interactions with care and grace, making the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary achingly familiar ... Beautifully realized stories with good, old-fashioned virtues." - Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (Top Short Fiction for Fall)

The information about Evening in Paradise shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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I Enjoyed This Immensely !
Although some of the titles of Lucia Berlin's works were familiar to me, I had never actually read anything written by Berlin prior to receiving a copy of EVENING IN PARADISE. In addition, I almost always prefer a novel to a collection of short stories. However, I not only thoroughly enjoyed Berlin's stories, but I now want to go back and read some of her other works and find out what I've been missing. There is something very honest about her characters in EVENING IN PARADISE and the everyday events they experience. I could picture the children playing in the heat of a Texas afternoon, the astonishment of passing through Miami airport and seeing little dogs dyed to match their old women-owners. I have visited, traveled through, or lived in many of the places in which these stories are set, and I was charmed by Berlin's ability to capture the sensory impressions of these places and realistically convey the first-person narrator's impressions. I have already recommended this book to several friends and am so happy that I was one of the fortunate people to receive an ARC.

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Author Information

Lucia Berlin Author Biography

Lucia Berlin (1936–2004) worked brilliantly but sporadically throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Her stories are inspired by her early childhood in various Western mining towns; her glamorous teenage years in Santiago, Chile; three failed marriages; a lifelong problem with alcoholism; her years spent in Berkeley, New Mexico, and Mexico City; and the various jobs she held to support her writing and her four sons.

Sober and writing steadily by the 1990s, she took a visiting writer's post at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1994 and was soon promoted to associate professor. In 2001, in failing health, she moved to Southern California to be near her sons. She died in 2004 in Marina del Rey.

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