Clean Sweep: A Novel
In E.B. Lee’s debut novel, Clean Sweep, Tessie Whitmore is a retired advertising executive who finds herself immersed in a world of which she has little familiarity and would have never imagined herself in just a few, short months prior. It’s bone-chilling cold when she and Grant, an Outreach worker, navigate the streets of Manhattan, delivering food and other necessities to the homeless. They discover one of the regulars lying lifeless in a corrugated cardboard box. Grant thinks maybe she’s been poisoned, though her autopsy results indicate something else. Carli (Tessie’s street name) finds it impossible to erase the images from that first night of Outreach from her mind. She vows to not let the woman they found be sent off to a mass burial site filled with unmarked graves and instead tracks down a childhood friend of hers. Together, they plan a proper burial and remembrance ceremony. As time progresses, Carli’s asked to take on two ‘unreachables.’ She hesitantly agrees but ends up determined to reach Sarah and Vera, one who’s fascinated with pigeons and doesn’t say a word, and one who remains mired in the loss of her home and husband. Through her patient endurance and unending thoughtfulness, she succeeds in her efforts and changes two lives, among many others, immeasurably.
This is a beautiful story of human connectedness, separation, and loss, hope, and love. It demonstrates that every small act of courage matters in a universe that is ripe with addiction, poverty, and crime.
E.B. Lee is masterful in her development of characters. Carli and Grant are both strong, yet fragile in their own individual ways. Carli’s intellect and curiosity propel her forward as does her desire to uncover the truth behind what has led so many to lives of homelessness. In contrast, Grant’s struggles with bipolar disorder and alcoholism as well as his history of living on the streets, give him a perspective that enables him to connect with those facing his same battles. In an amazing twist of fate, Carli learns that Grant is the brother she lost years ago to a cult. She had never stopped believing she might someday find him, and this addition to the plot adds layers of dimension, emotion, and complexity to the story.
Lee’s depictions of street life, mental illness, and addiction closely mirrors reality. They provide great insight into the adversities that affect the homeless as well as those that lead them to the streets in the first place. They also shine a light on the urgency for those with instability and dependency concerns to seek the treatment they need and deserve. Social workers as well as anyone with a compassionate heart will find this a notable and worthy read.
|Little Brown Dog Press
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