One thing that makes Berlin so valuable is her gift for evoking the sweetness and earnestness of young women who fall in love... and then catching them at that moment when things begin to turn, when the trees of their being are forced to grow bark.
Berlin probably deserved a Pulitzer Prize; she definitely deserved, to borrow the name of a Waylon Jennings song, a Wurlitzer Prize, for all the coins she drops into our mental jukeboxes. She has an instinctive access to the ways music can both provoke and fortify.
I loved A Manual for Cleaning Women, but my excitement about the appearance of Evening in Paradise, a further posthumous collection, was tempered by an inevitable question: why weren’t these 22 stories selected for the previous book? The answer, equally inevitably, is that they’re not as strong... Yet, all the same, there’s still plenty in Evening in Paradise to conjure the original thrill of reading Berlin.
Evening in Paradise is a collection of 22 more raw, elliptical, devilishly funny tales that draw on her own precarious, peripatetic life....Berlin is now often held up alongside her male coevals – and fellow alcoholics – Raymond Carver and Richard Yates, so-called “dirty realists”, who cast cold, appraising eyes at the underbelly of American life. But these comparisons don’t do justice to the wily humour she developed in dealing with a generation of male artists deeply invested in maintaining male status.
These stories showed Berlin’s extraordinary talent for landing in the middle of a life or a place and giving the reader an immediate sense of being there. Her writing is vivid, the pictures she makes are unforgettable. Evening in Paradise is a selection of her remaining stories, occasionally a touch scrappy, but mostly wonderful.
Berlin is a master of compressing worlds into lyrical, note-like observations. The lulling quality of her writing means it sometimes takes a second reading to realise that someone has been stabbed or taken an overdose. The way things fall apart is almost unobtrusive: cracks appear in a life, blood gushes from wounds you hardly noticed. The modesty of Berlin’s approach makes it difficult to see the hard work that’s gone into the writing. There is sometimes, too, a front of mirthful scorn that masks her deep empathy.