Welcome Home ... reveal[s] how powerfully Berlin’s literary imagination was shaped by the twin beliefs...that stories can keep you company—keep you sane—during periods of deep loneliness, and that stories improve when they’re fractured and opened up for intervention ... Her stories contain the observations and concerns of impermissible experience: what heroin dealers looked and spoke like in Juárez in the ’60s; how a woman of that era might change husbands as nimbly as changing cabs; what the cleaning lady thinks about as she gets blood off a bedroom wall after a murder ... These are dangerous subjects for women, even now. It’s no accident that many critics looking for Berlin’s peers compare her primarily to male authors (Hemingway, Raymond Carver), though the comparisons rarely do justice to her humor or her quirky, lavish prose style. Welcome Home also gives a sense of the joyousness of her personality, which is as urgently expressed in all her writing as loneliness and desperation are. Her writing loves the world, lingers over details of touch and smell ... precision is characteristic of Berlin, whose descriptions are usually both peculiar and funny.
Berlin (1936-2004) was a writer of tender, chaotic and careworn short stories ... she’s a writer you want in your back pocket ... This memoir, which lacks the richness of Berlin’s fiction, had been left uncompleted ... it’s a stand-in until the inevitable biography of Berlin is written.
... a little uncut ruby of a memoir ...The lack of variety is puzzling (why not a few of her letters to Lydia Davis, say?) and the letters are not interesting in themselves, but they are worth reading to hear how much more herself she is in the stories ... The more extended memories offered in Welcome Home delight and illuminate, either despite or because of the fact that nearly every line contains something we’ve seen before ... Why doesn’t it read as autofiction, quite? To read Welcome Home after Evening in Paradise after A Manual for Cleaning Women is to experience Berlin as a romanesco, or the hall of mirrors scene in The Lady from Shanghai. She approaches the same material in so many different ways, in so many different stories, that you see the art in action.
Scents in particular are sharp and plentiful in the early years of the memoir, and the details are not merely sentimental. As Davis notes of Berlin’s writing, every word serves a purpose ... even in a child’s voice, her discernment is as sharp as her observation ... Every scent is laced with purpose, too. And with these shared scent notes, the reader feels in their gut what Berlin can only confirm with hindsight: whether a place is safe or suspect, and whether or not it is home ... Berlin’s writing can be characterized by her ability to capture the details that so many others miss ... The admission of an unreliable moment in memory, the recorded glitch of a fleeting scent that defies all reason and lingers, imbues the time with both the charms of its luxury and the murmurs of its inevitable instability.
No American story writer uses the senses quite like [Berlin]. The colors of the Southwest wash over her sketches. The sounds of labor, of talk. Even a glimpse from a moving train of a woman on a Texas prairie town has a Walker Evans quality ... Berlin’s sketches are suggestive, moving, matter-of-fact in some places, and completely devoid of self-pity. Reading them is like having someone tell you the stories of her life over your shoulder as you look at pictures from that time.
Only true Berliners will be interested in Welcome Home, a brief but disjointed collection of unfinished memoir, photographs and letters — and they may feel it does a disservice to its author. It starts brilliantly with Berlin writing about her childhood... But the memoir is palpably a draft, and there’s something deflating about encountering people and events easily recognisable from the stories. More insightful are the letters charting Berlin’s early attempts at writing.
Unfortunately...the memoir lacks crucial background information that would have made it a standalone work. Further editorial context or annotation would have certainly helped, particularly for first-time Berlin readers ... Nevertheless, as a supplemental reference, Welcome Home is a fun and sometimes bombastic introduction to Berlin’s roller-coaster life ... For anyone who has already read Manual or Evening in Paradise, Berlin’s brief memoir may at times feel redundant ... Fortunately, the second half of Welcome Home is far stronger than the first—so raw and electric, so alive with Berlin’s need to connect with other souls.
[Welcome Home is] less a narrative than a picaresque travelogue that’s unified by Berlin’s characteristic existence, perpetual nomadism, and oblique perspective. It’s a very strangely constructed, highly original memoir, and I’m so disappointed that the entire book never had an opportunity to come into existence ... With the assistance of Berlin’s son Jeff, her editors have also included photos of her interspersed from throughout her life, and they add very much to the text ... From this too-brief text emerges a multi-faceted and complex woman whose misgivings over the world she was born into seem destined to move her toward a transformation that, unfortunately, we never get to see.
Occasionally Welcome Home has the succinctness and survivor’s humor that mark Berlin’s stories ... Welcome Home was written in the early 2000s, after Berlin’s most intimate biographical stories had been published, we might expect the memoir to go further than the fiction, to give us something more like a definitive portrait of Lucia Berlin. I’m not sure that it does ... Sharp details, but there’s little in Welcome Home to rival the lurid, often grotesque, precision with which El Paso is rendered in [Berlin's] stories ... Being tied down doesn’t suit Berlin; this is one reason why Welcome Home, a singular account of a kaleidoscopically complex past, doesn’t work as well as the fiction.
I suppose some people would say that Welcome Home is slight—a brief, brisk, unfinished memoir formed around descriptions of all the houses and apartments in which Berlin has lived. But it’s full of little emotional bombshells, so severely understated that Berlin’s humor seems even edgier here than in her stories ... Characters crept in, obviously, along with some pretty great dialogue. If major turns of events are startlingly, delightfully understated, it may well be a reflection of Berlin’s ambivalence about populating this memoir to begin with ... The memoir ends with a list of notes on all her subsequent dwellings, as evocative and mordant as the memoir itself.
The unique and captivating perspective prized by fans of Berlin (A Manual for Cleaning Women) is on haphazard but still-mesmerizing display in this nonfiction complement to her autobiographical short stories ... Although more editorial context would have been helpful, the (too few) missives will fascinate fans with what seems a peek at the unvarnished Berlin.