By Randy Kraft
Laguna writer Julie Brickman must be a very good writing teacher. At a book launch party recently at the home of Ed Kaufman and Karen Redding, she spoke eloquently about “interiority” in fiction, those moments when the inner thoughts and feelings of a character enhance or enlighten. Brickman said they have to be earned, in other words the writer has to first set the scene and ensure that the reader has context. I felt as if I were back at school and thoroughly appreciated
Brickman’s interest in the interior life of her characters is very much on displa
y in her first published collection of stories entitled “Two Deserts.” She previously published a novel “What the Birds Can Only Whisper.” She titles well and the title of the story collection insinuates the poignancy o
f physical desert with the metaphorical, those often sweeping barren spaces that characterize personal struggles. All 14 stories reflect both. Some take place in a fictional middle-eastern town trapped in tradition, others in Laguna Beach, where the wives of dying husbands socialize to elevate themselves from their tenuous reality. The contrasts are striking.
Brickman’s stories alternate in location and tone, and some of the characters surface in more than
one. They all reflect some form of yearning, as if perpetually parched. Protagonists are primarily women, the men in their lives existing as context or constraint, and include an adolescent Muslim wishing for modernity and a Muslim mother determined to protect her son from his fate. My favorites included a fascinating juxtaposition of a therapist whose husband is dying while she tries to make sense of a client’s satisfactory life as a prostitute, and a priest who cannot withhold his sexuality. These stories felt especially rich, delving into contradictory portraits and reveling in lives that seek equilibrium wherever it may be found.
Short stories are especially difficult to write – so little time to make characters and situations come to life – which may be why I love reading them. So much happens in so little space with enough left unsaid to ponder. When Brickman occasionally allows her own interiority to become too present, the action slows down and some of the stories suffer, but there is quite enough going on in this collection to reclaim the distance that good storytelling demands.
A paperback original published by Hopewell Publications, “Two Deserts” is available at Laguna Beach Books and as an e-book.
Happy holidays and happy reading. Read more about books and writers on Twitter: @ocbookblogger.