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Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

Who cleans up after a personal disaster? Have you ever been watching Law & Order and think to yourself, yikes, who will be mopping that blood off the ceiling? I also used to love to watch Hoarders but I didn't connect that the two types of cleaners—crime scene and hoarding—are often the same. You might think the crime scenes would be worse but not according to Sandra Pankhurst, who does these cleans—dead people don't argue and don't want to keep garbage. And Sandra is so empathetic that she does really great with those hoarding clients, but it also is emotionally exhausting.

This book claims to be and probably started out as the story of trauma cleaning and who actually does that, but it ends as an uncompromising and compellingly poetic biography of an enigmatic and utterly singular person, in this case, Sandra Pankhurst. A father, a wife, a prostitute, a rape victim, a funeral arranger, a hardware store owner, and finally a trauma cleaner, her life has been defined by dichotomies and oxymorons. She is a transgender woman who had her operation in 1980s Melbourne, Australia, not exactly a very understanding or progressive time. She has been a pioneer in many ways, and while some of her decisions are not what you might have done in her shoes, she's an admirable person just the same.

You certainly do also get the stories of some of the traumatic cleans she's done, and they are fascinating, but Sandra is the center of every story. I know this is a ballsy thing to claim, but in the end, this book reminded me of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I dare you to read this book and try to take your eyes off her.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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