Julie Brickman’s Two Deserts draws us into exotic worlds — both foreign and domestic — that slowly reveal to us the unacknowledged and unknown layers of life in and around us all.
Brickman’s well-crafted stories expand exponentially with their deft movement, bittersweet insights, and unexpected humor. The book’s titles are often darkly humorous and always intriguing:”The Cop, the Hooker, and the Ridealong,” “Supermax,” and “The Dying Husbands Dinner Club” all live up to their titles.
One of the bravest stories is “Gear of a Marriage,” which consists of five pages of nothing but lists, starting with “Hiking boots, 2 pair,” and ending with, well, I won’t say what, but illness is involved. It’s the single most devastating story in the collection, its spare prose and unique form perfectly wringing from us an intense emotional reaction using matter-of-fact language.
Brickman explores various points of view as well: first, third, and the underrepresented second. She’s not afraid to explore those vast deserts.
That Brickman has also been a psychologist benefits the reader as she zooms in and out of minds and psyches, of hearts and emotions. This is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure collection for adults, although a more apt name might be “What Would You Do?” Constantly putting her characters into impossibly difficult situations, Brickman keeps us curious, longing, wondering. No matter in which desert we find ourselves, we find an oasis in this collection.
Nowhere is this better represented than in “The Cop, the Hooker, and the Ridealong,” where a psychiatrist muses “The end of subjectivity was the end of the only kind of truth that could steer a life, truth rooted in self-discovery, the stark naked truth generated by the guts.” This beautiful, deep sentence sums up this tender collection.
Smart, brave and true collections such as this one don’t come along often enough, and they certainly don’t get the attention they deserve sometimes because they are smart, brave, and true. These stories certainly are.