‘Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest’ by Sherman Alexie

Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest by Sherman Alexie, 2017

The magic trick:

Featuring the protagonist in nearly every sentence

Today’s Sherman Alexie story reminds me of The Founder. You might not remember it. The movie seemed like perfect Oscar bait, but its release came and went with barely a ripple back in late 2016. Anyway, it’s a biopic about Ray Kroc – the man who kind of invented fast food as we know it – and Michael Keaton is in nearly every single scene. Not quite all of them, but pretty close.

So, back to Sherman Alexie… “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest” has a similar laser focus. Marie, our motel-cleaning protagonist, features in nearly every sentence. When I say she is the protagonist, I mean she is the pro tag o nist. Somehow it seemed like stretching out the word would emphasize the point. Regardless, you get what I’m saying. The result is a story of modest ambition. But who cares? It’s a moving character portrait. And that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.

The selection:

The used condoms stopped bothering Marie after a while. At least the people were being safe during their motel sex. She was Catholic and didn’t believe in abortion. But she was more flexibly Catholic than strictly Catholic, so she did believe in birth control—pills, devices, procedures. That’s good science, she thought. And God created everything, including science. One of God’s other names is Big Bang. Sometimes, when she prayed, she said “Dear Big Bang,” and she was half certain that God enjoyed the inside joke. Nobody was allowed to be fully certain about God. And she’d never trusted anybody who claimed to be certain about God. You cannot be confident and faithful at the same time, she thought.


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