Two Deserts: Stories
by Julie Brickman
Hopewell Publications

"Noise and vitality riffled the air along with racy scents and that crazy amber light. Whiffs of spicy perfumes and incenses mingled with oils crackling fro rotating spits of shawarnah; nutty honeyed aromas floated from cafes and bakery shops. Black shrouded women hunched over counters and balance scales in gold shops, as they haggled for jewelry, the asset they could always claim as their own."

Written in beautifully descriptive prose, Two Deserts is a collection of fourteen short stories that reveal deep reflections on life made by various different characters. Reading through each story is a peaceful drift down a lazy river on a beautiful spring day. Finishing each one is a profound realization of a kindred human emotion.

Most of the stories offered are told from the perspective of Livia, a former psychologist turned writer. Sometimes these stories are based on her experiences in California as she nurses her husband through the onset and advancement of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). These are interspersed with experiences and voices from Dubai or the sparsely populated wilderness of spring in Alaska.

Not all of the stories are based on this character, although it becomes something of a game to find her in each of the stories provided. She is seen as the writer throughout the book to the point that the reader will be a bit surprised, upon finally closing the book at the end, to see the author's name is Julie rather than Livia.

The main character is not always female, either. Sometimes it is a male character telling the experience as he explores the essence of his own experiences and their consequences. Even here, though, he tends to have a writer's spirit, making him identifiable within the story. This shared spirit also helps to soothe the similar voice running through all of the stories. The focus of these stories is to explore a different perspective, for example that of someone from a completely different socio-economic background, from that of the primary character Livia.

While each character comes to their situations with their own expectations and perspectives, each experience changes them in some small but fundamental way. The stories are narrowly focused, allowing a great deal of character development to shine through. It is this element that is perhaps the most beautiful element of the book. The author is brilliant at capturing and fully appreciating those small, everyday moments in which character is formed.

If character development represents the diamonds of the book, intensely tactile descriptions provide the colorful emeralds, rubies, and sapphires that add sparkle to the stories. Full of rich visual imagery that easily places the reader within the scene, each story has a uniquely vibrant environment in which to take place. This environment explodes into life through the presence of its unique sounds, smells, textures, touches, and tastes. You feel the breath of another on your face, you smell the strong spices of the marketplace, the weight of the silk falls tentlike around your shoulders as you read.

The tone of the book is multifaceted as well. It is inspirational, a bit mournful, peacefully lonely, and yet all about the process of making connections and accepting each others' differences. It washes over the reader as a tide—attempts at understanding, realizations of limitations, and new awareness as a result of the experience, leaving the reader a bit changed as well. At its core, it is a book about love. It's a book sharing love.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review.

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