Ahoy there me mateys! Though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. So occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. I received this non-fiction eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
the trauma cleaner (Sarah Krasnostein)
Title: the trauma cleaner: one woman’s extraordinary life in the business of death, decay, and disaster
Author: Sarah Krasnostein
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: April 10, 2018 (hardback/ebook)
I discovered this book looking into St. Martin’s Press’ releases because I previously read castle of water which was one of me favourite reads of 2017. One of me odd jobs back in the day was helping a company who organized houses. They needed more people to help with a specific hoarder’s house and I needed extra funds so I signed up. To say it was an eye-opening experience into that specific mental illness in an understatement. So what in the world must trauma cleaning be like? I honestly expected this book to have a lighter tone to it like stiff does about the business of dead bodies. I somehow thought it would be funny yet respectful. While the book was extremely respectful and had funny moments, it turned out to be a heart-wrenching tale of one woman, Sandra’s, amazing journey to survive and thrive in life.
If ye expect this book is going to be about the “trauma” as seemingly indicated in the title, ye might be mistaken. The book does look into “living clients,” the hoarder aspect of the job in particular, using extremely vivid imagery about smells, trash, and the difficulties of getting people to let go of clutter. It does not deal as greatly with the aspects of the job like industrial clean up or murder scenes. Perhaps that it is to help the reader because the author’s turn of phrase, while sometimes lyrical, is so stark and effective at times. But ultimately there is plenty of trauma in dealing with Sandra’s life story. It is seemingly more harsh then cleaning murder scenes. It seems crazy to say that but that’s what it felt like to this reader.
Ye see Sandra’s life started out rough and it seems like a miracle that she not only survived but became the thoughtful wonderful person found in the pages of this biography. She was born a male in Australia, abandoned as an infant, and then adopted by a Catholic family. This family was no picnic. The father was an abusive alcoholic. The family eventually had more blood-related children after adopting Sandra, which, in combination with the belief that their son might be homosexual, led to a life of hell. Ugh. I won’t get into the rest of the details here. Makes me stomach clench just to think of it. As the blurb states, before she was a trauma cleaner, “Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife.” She was one of the first patients to have gender reassignment surgery in the 1980s.
It was the portrayal of life as a non-conforming society individual that I found as compelling as I did heart-breaking. While Sandra’s life seems to have had love and joy in it, there also seemed to be a pervading sense of self-doubt, denial, and pain. It is the pain that lingered throughout the tale and made it a hard read. I have amazing respect for the journey and am grateful to have read this book. I highly recommend it but only wish that I had felt more joy in how Sandra’s life ultimately has turned out in the end.
So lastly . . .
Thank you St. Martin’s Press!
Side note: there are some very interesting articles out there in relation to this novel. Some recommendations:
STC Services – Sandra’s business website
Daily Mail – be forewarned that the headline is a little lurid and the article tells a lot of the plot of the book but it has the photos talked about but not found in me copy of the book
Netgalley’s website has this to say about the novel:
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.
A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.
Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.
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