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The Cleaner: Book summary and reviews of The Cleaner by Brandi Wells

The Cleaner

A Novel

by Brandi Wells

The Cleaner by Brandi Wells X
The Cleaner by Brandi Wells
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  • Published Jan 2024
    304 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

The night cleaner comes and does what she does best—sorts out the messes of the daytime employees. None of them know her, but she knows everything about them. Disturbing and funny in equal measures.

Every night, she cleans. On the fourth floor of an unnamed office in an unnamed city, the night cleaner comes and does what she does best—sorts out the messes of the daytime employees. None of them know her, but she knows everything about them: Sad Intern's dreams to get promoted, Résumé Woman's nasty flight-risk behavior, Mr. Buff's secret smoking habit (not very conducive to his fitness journey).

She's the office mastermind, the one everyone needs, and no one even knows she exists. And tonight, while scrolling through your emails, she'll discover the secret you've been hiding—the one that will put everyone's job at risk.

After all, protecting the employees is her responsibility: whether it's from rats and window smudges or from the sinister CEO who may be driving the company into ruin. And you're about to find out that, sometimes, your most powerful enemy is the one you don't even see.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Wells is a keen observer of the mundane indignities and petty dramas of office life. Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"So inappropriately fun to read." —Booklist (starred review)

"Reminiscent of Ottessa Moshfegh's work in its excavations of a troubled woman's descent into more and more uncomfortable behavior, this novel is a suspenseful, though slow-paced, examination of one woman's delusion. This gripping, sometimes shocking novel relies on quiet twists to keep the reader guessing." —Kirkus Reviews

"Welcome to the office building at night, an eerie ship helmed by one woman desperate for connection." —Julia Fine, author of Maddalena and the Dark

This information about The Cleaner 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

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Sue P. (Hollister, CA)

The Cleaner by Brandi Wells
The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

I enjoyed reading this book about a cleaner who works at night in a mostly empty building. During the day its desk-filled floors are occupied by office workers. The cleaner takes a lot of pride in her work, even though the people she cleans up after never seem to notice her hard work. Although she is invisible to the people she cleans up after, she wants to feel connected to them. So she imagines personalities and solves imaginary problems of the people who occupy all those desks, fantasizing what it would be like to earn their appreciation and friendship.

Soon those imaginary personalities become more and more real to the cleaner. As the unseen cleaner goes about vacuuming and wiping down the office surfaces, she begins making subtle changes that can alter the day-to-day course of a worker's life. This book is often funny but also fascinatingly disturbing.

Arlene I. (Johnston, RI)

Invisible…or not!
During the day she is quietly working, but invisible because she already completed her work during the nighttime hours.

The Cleaner by Brandi Wells is definitely a dark comedy. It is a story of an after hours cleaning woman in a high rise office building. The daytime occupants do not know her, but she is controlling their lives unbeknownst to them. As she cleans each desk area, she envisions the user in her own mind. What are the characteristics of each employee/employer? She determines that by going through their desk drawers, rearranging as she cleans not only their desk (inside and out) but also their emails and appointment schedules. Oh yes, she trolls their computers because they leave their passwords on a sticky note either attached to the screen or their desktop. She actually thinks she is being very helpful, directing their lives toward something good..or not so good. Ms. Cleaner's (she is not named) antics can be delightful..or not. As she keeps the office workers humming, she also keeps close eyes on the CEO of the company. You will have to wait to see what that is about.

The author's writing style for this book is unique. One main unnamed character. The quips come fast as the reader takes on the observer role, hiding in a corner. You can actually visualize the employees by the vivid descriptions. I thought the novel was fast paced and finished it in two days..couldn't put it down.

I really enjoyed this book. It has one voice and it does have laugh-out-loud moments. It would be interesting to have book club members debate the morality of The Cleaner. Don't you just wonder what is actually happening in your office building at night?

I thank Brandi Wells, Hanover Square Press and BookBrowse for giving me the opportunity of reading this novel.

Mark S. (Blauvelt, NY)

Uniquely enjoyable!
A story narrated by a somewhat invisible, underappreciated night cleaner in a building where a company is floundering turned out to be more entertaining that I thought early on. I enjoyed the unique perspective of the cleaner and her sometimes skewed rationalizations of her own behavior. Her character was one that elicited empathy at some points, pity at others, and even scorn on occasion. It was also fun to follow the nameless (albeit nicknamed) characters described by the narrator and the unseen ways she may have shaped their lives. There were times that the book felt a bit redundant, but so is/was the cleaner's life. Wells' choice to cloak most of her characters in these nicknames or abbreviations also helped make the book more universal. The world she described could exist in any building/company. The Cleaner is not a book I would have typically picked off of the shelf in a store, but I definitely enjoyed reading it.

Carla

The office never sleeps
The Cleaner by Brandi Wells provides a view of a working office from the night cleaner. She knows everyone and has created her own names for many of the employees based on what they have on or in their desks or what is in their wastebaskets. None of the employees know she exists, except an intern.
To the rest of the world, her job is simply cleaning but she believes she is part of the team. She believes she can help the struggling company. Be careful of what you leave when you leave for the day. The cleaner sees all and knows what no one else does.

Elizabeth L

Unsettling
The writing really walked the tightrope of 1) highlighting how we dismiss the labor of people who aren't part of "our caste" and 2) showing that laborer is mentally disturbed. This was a hard book to read since everyone - except M - was occasionally sympathetic but more often annoying/monstrous. BUT I recommend.

Ann Beman

If an Ottessa Moshfegh character & a way-subdued Borat had a baby ...
The unnamed cleaner works the night shift at an unnamed company in an unnamed city. In this dark comedy, author Brandi Wells shines glaring, humming overhead light on a grimy, mundane occupation. Is this titular character despicable? No. Deluded? Definitely. She has mommy issues, thus a driving need to care for others. Yet she has no actual human connections. She fancies herself the office hero, the company savior, despite not knowing what the company does, and despite not ever having met the people she's saving. Is the Cleaner likeable? That's not even the right question. The point isn't how we like her. It's how we're led to sympathize with her -- the unseen, unappreciated service worker who keeps things running in spite of the indignities. Wells allows us to know this character in granular detail. We cringe at her inappropriate snooping and disturbing behavior, but then we cringe at the obliviousness and detritus that she must deal with each night. Not everyone will like this novel. Without chapter breaks or named characters, it rambles and drudges because that is how this character rolls. No wonder she is driven to rise above. I was with her all the way.

...19 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Brandi Wells

Brandi Wells is the author of This Boring Apocalypse, Please Don't Be Upset, and Poisonhorse. Their debut novel, Cleaner, was published by Wildfire Books in August 2023 and will be published by Hanover Square Press in January 2024 as The Cleaner.

They teach creative writing at CSU Fullerton and hold a Phd in Literature and Creative Writing from University of Southern California.

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