Mar 29, 2010

Other People's Dirt

A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures
by Louise Rafkin

When she was a kid, Rafkin dreamed of being a spy for the CIA. As an adult, she got a degree in journalism, but ended up more often employed at something she had a natural knack for: cleaning houses. She turned it into a specialty, cleaning homes for a string of rich clientele. This book wraps it all together- her penchant for cleaning, her skills as a writer, and her inclination to snoop through stuff and figure out stories about her clients' lives. Other People's Dirt is the full scoop on housecleaners. What her pet peeves are, her favorite cleaning products, her critique of vacuum cleaner models. What she's learned on the job, and her forays into the lives of other kinds of housecleaners: agencies that employ teams of maids (usually poorly paid in the end), services that provide housecleaners who mostly pretend to dust and scrub while scantily clad, even a spiritual group in Japan that cleans toilets as a form of humble service. At one point she seeks out the woman who used to clean her own house when she was a kid, but communication is nil (her mom's housecleaner never learned English) and she doesn't get the revelations or make the bond she was seeking. This book reminded me a lot of Nickel and Dimed, and the breezy tone similar to that in Confessions of a Slacker Mom. At first I was enjoying it a lot, but then got annoyed at the times Rafkin would hint at some secret she knew about her employers, then refuse to tell. Or this blatant typo: "my need to tow the politically correct line" (it should be part of your foot, not a method of hauling)- usually I can gloss right over errors and ignore them but in a short book, it leaps right out and irritates me. And the final chapter, about her time in Japan, just became confusing. So in the end the story kind of fizzled, but I did like it most of the way through.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 195 pages, 1998


bermudaonion said...

Sounds interesting! My mother-in-law used to have a housekeeper who loved to gossip. I told my mother-in-law to watch out, because if she's talking about everyone else, she's probably talking about you too. I'm glad the author kept her mouth shut.

Jeane said...

Well, she kept it pretty anonymous- no identifying details about her clients. I just felt like she should have left out the hints, if she wasn't going to spill the beans!

Bookfool said...

Aw, darn. It started out sounding so good and ended up like it's not worth wasting your time. Thanks for the review, Jeane!

Bybee said...

I really liked it -- lots of fun. I liked how she got huffy when people whose houses she cleaned didn't know she had a master's degree. I liked the Japan chapter. I also liked the French dust mop idea. But hire her for my cleaning lady? No way!

TheBlackSheep said...

Too bad it fizzled. I was sounding pretty good there for the first half of your review.

Jenny said...

This sounds interesting, despite the flaws. I like knowing what different jobs are like, though I do really hate it when an author hints at something fascinating and then doesn't see it through. Don't they know that I am nosy?

Jeane said...

Bookfool- I liked it okay for the most part, but I don't think I'd read it a second time.

Bybee- It was fun. I think I was tired when I read the last chapter, that might have been why it confused me... You're right, I don't think I'd want her for my cleaning lady, either. Refusing to change sheets? what's that about?

BlackSheep- well, it was just my opinion. I think a lot of readers would find it fun all the way through.

Jenny- I like reading about different jobs, too- probably why I picked it up. And when someone's writing about how they like to snoop and spy, I expect them to deliver some goods! or just leave out the hints, really.