Wednesday, May 2, 2018

THE TRAUMA CLEANER :: Sarah Krasnostein

I requested a galley of this book based on two things: the cover and the subtitle. This admission shouldn't be shocking if you know me at all, as the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" is, for me, one that applies to life but never to books. I am an admitted cover-judger of the highest order and this one got me good. A realistic image of a cleaning glove with a spot of blood on it? Sign me up.

The realism is key here, which leads to the subtitle: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster. I'm not a huge fan of subtitles, particularly the lengthy variety, but this one does the great favor of telling me exactly what I'm getting. Well, almost. Don't let the word "extraordinary" slip your notice, because this book is both exactly what it says it is and nothing you'd ever expect.

Sarah Krasnostein begins her profile of Sandra Parkhurst with the woman she is today--tall, perfectly coiffed and tethered to an oxygen tank. Sandra is the founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning (STC) Services Pty Ltd and every day for the past twenty years she has entered homes where "death, sickness, and madness have suddenly abbreviated the lives inside." Sandra's business and her empathetic connection with her clients is fascinating enough to carry the book, yet in the end it's the least fascinating part of the book.

The heart of the story is Sandra and how she became the person she is today, hardened yet compassionate, frustrating yet understandable, unlikable yet lovable. She is an admittedly unreliable narrator due to historic drug use and lifelong trauma, yet she shares openly, accurately or not, with Krasnostein about every detail of her life, no matter how personal.

Alternating between Sandra's history and current professional jobs that present similar to case studies, The Trauma Cleaner is two of the most unlikely stories being woven into one narrative. Yet it works. Sandra's history is necessary to understand who she is today. I'm not going to spoil that here, though the quote below might give a clue, so if you want to remain in the dark, I'd recommend skipping it. Suffice it to say this is one of the most horrific and yet beautiful character studies I've read.

STREET SENSE: There is no one street that fits this one. If you like intense character studies, this is up your alley. If you're more interested in the forensics and trauma scene side, perhaps a bit less so as that is not, nor should it be, the true focus. But since that's how I went into it and came out wowed, I'd still recommend you give it a go.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Looking back on this review, I feel as though I didn't highlight how wonderful the writing is. Sandra and her story are so powerful it's easy for the writing to be overshadowed. It shouldn't be, because it's fantastic, but the fact that it's fantastic and still lets the story shine is another reason it's so good. I marked a ton of passages while reading, but settled on the following to share:

It didn’t start at the twenty-buck fuck shops. It didn’t start in the barnlike brothel where the girls roosted like hens, wire on the windows and around the light bulbs to prevent the men from ripping them out of the ceiling. It didn’t start with the boyfriends who stuck around only as long as her money lasted, or with the beatings from the cops who hated boys dressed like girls or with the women who wouldn’t open the door when she stood outside pleading in the dark, naked and bleeding. It didn’t start with any of that. It started when she was a little boy in a small house with a dirt driveway running up along the side.

(See what I mean? SO good.)

COVER NERD SAYS: Perfection. This book is so difficult to summarize and impossible to categorize. The image/subtitle combo was a little stroke of genius.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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