OTHER PEOPLE'S DIRT by Louise Rafkin


A Housecleaner's Adventures from Cape Cod to Kyoto
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Into this life a chance for liberating creativity fell, when Rafkin narrowly escaped a straight-on march into the literary world of academia and headed into the trenches of “other people’s dirt.” This book documents her experiences as seen from the underbelly of day-to-day life through anecdote and wry observation: dust balls and food stains, what laundry reveals and conceals, the nature of the need to clean, and the strange idiosyncrasies of those who will pay others to put order in their disorderly lives. Brief chapters cover stints in the homes of hoarders, the simply overworked, the impersonal nit-pickers, perverts, and even a suicide. In a final chapter, Rafkin travels to Japan to live with the Ittoen community, a group of homeless individuals committed to cleaning up the immediate world. Her thoughts on the need for order hint at the author’s underlying belief: She would like to share the Ittoen “nonattachment to worldly goods.” But her comments on Japan are banal, and her search for any philosophy in what a house cleaner knows remains lifeless as long as she poses questions such as, —If a forest is swept and no one sees it, was it ever really swept? . . . would I ever stop trying to achieve Home-Ec Student of the Year?” Rafkin’s breezy matter-of-factness only barely obscures a lot of cynical ranting about people, places, and things. Only at the very end does she confide her personal take on what her meanderings have meant in a final homeward gaze, the long-lost San Francisco girl at last getting real: “It was time to clean house.” More adventure than memoir, this book is odd and not all that entertaining. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 5th, 1998
ISBN: 1-56512-162-7
Page count: 210pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998