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Book summary and reviews of Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise

More Stories

by Lucia Berlin

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  • Published:
  • Nov 2019
    256 pages
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About this book

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.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will 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 ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Evening in Paradise:

"Cherry Blossom Time": What did you think of Cassandra's husband's reaction to her believe that her life is stuck in a rut? Do you consider yourself someone who sticks to a routine?
Cassandra’s husband was abruptly (and quite rudely) dismissive of her comment. I’m 50/50 on the routine...some things I do are routine while other are not. For me, it’s a perfect balance. - jennie r

"Endado": It seems as if the loudest voices for change are often those of young adults. Why do you suppose this is?
The story mirrors real life. It seems to have been true since the beginning or recorded history. Young people might still be more idealistic and still have faith that change will not only happen, but happen quite soon. They are not yet bogged down... - rebeccar

"Endado": Talking about "army brats and children of diplomats," the narrator writes, "The problem is.... that they adapt so quickly and so well." What do you think she means by this? Do you agree?
Berlin may have been referring to the dilemma that Laura found herself in at the end of the story. She had adapted well to the adult situations her parents thrust her into--hosting the party, caring for her mother. Now her father thinks Don Andres (... - Lole

"Itinerary": Could you have predicted the trajectory of your life? Which aspects were as you imagined they'd be and which weren't?
As a high school graduate in 1964 I could not have anticipated what was to come in the world (technical advancements, shrinking of the world, opportunities for women, the path of civil rights and social justice) or what role I would take in the world... - Lole

"Itinerary": Why do you think the narrator's parents had someone meet her at each airport transfer? Do you recall your first trip away from home without your parents?
I think it made them feel that they were actually making an effort at parenting. They might not make much of a personal effort, but having someone there, made them feel that they were, in fact, doing something. - Marcia S

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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,

"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)

This information about Evening in Paradise was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

judith spencer

One of the Best of the Year
Although short stories are not my first choice, Lucia Berlin's prose is absolutely beautiful. Her superb use of adjectives and adverbs transforms harshness of the settings to beauty in humanity. The stories reflect her "belief in the artistic legitimacy of chronicling everyday life". This book will be re-read.


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.

Katherine Pond

Harrowing? Only If You Make Her Choices
Okay, I know alcoholism is a disease BUT it is not an excuse for poor choices, self-indulgence and lack of responsibility. Nor, in my estimation, does it make meandering autobiographical stories written while drunk, stoned or both literature. One of the blurbs says the subject matter is " harrowing for women". Well, only if you've made the choices this woman makes.

Sure there are several stories that I liked but by and large I was impatient with the mindless literal bed-hopping ( sometimes with minors other times with friends of a husband who then become new husbands) and geographical meanderings of an irresponsible mother of four boys. Irresponsible in conceiving them and irresponsible in "rearing" them. Nice to know that by the time they had grown up she got sober and through some strange happenstance became a college professor of creative writing. Guess someone thought her writings were good, though they didn't get published until after she died.

Received a copy of this book from BookBrowse to discuss starting Dec 2.

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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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