Last year I sat next to a bookseller on a plane from Sydney to Melbourne. Naturally, we chatted about books and when I asked her for her top recommendation, she gave me The Trauma Cleaner.
Like many others I thought this was a book about cleaning up the gruesome consequences of someone else’s mess. But this book is so much more. It’s an almost voyeuristic examination and insight into a number of people whose houses are so bad that specialist industrial cleaners are needed.
It almost seems fictionalised, surely no-one can live like that. Yet, as fantastical as it might seem, the author is clear about one thing. Nothing is exaggerated. And she should know as she went on the road to see for herself.
“As the heartwood of a tree sings to you of thousands of sunlit days and rainy hours – specific symphonies of soil and the seasons of weathering and revival that will grant you the structural strength to reach for your share of the light – the rotten core of Dorothy’s house is a whispered scream that hurtles you backwards through decades of pitch darkness.”
And so starts the chapter about Dorothy who has lived in squalor for most of her life.
We learn in detail about the owner of one such business, Sandra, the woman who was born a male and the trauma of her life and how she’s coped. Sandra has the ability to put those whose lives have been affected by trauma at ease and because of her perfectionistic tendencies is serious about leaving her clients better than she found them.
Throughout these stories about Sandra’s clients, the author skilfully opens the door on Sandra’s own life as an adopted child who was different but never accepted by her family; of her struggle for identity and love and acceptance as a transgender woman who stood up to the establishment and lived her life her own way.
This is an astonishing memoir, beautifully written. In parts we are shocked by what human beings are capable of, good and bad and the effect on others. Sandra could have made very different choices but her fight and zest for life outweighed all the other demons she carried.
This is a very different book and if it makes you uncomfortable then I think that must be a good thing. This one will stay with me for a long time.
Pic from Goodreads