Villard Books, 2001
ISBN 0-3375-50478-8
Alicia Erian’s eye-opener, The Brutal Language of Love, spills compelling words and situations onto each and every page. This debut collection is provocative and engaging, a sure sign of Ms. Erian’s consistent talent. The protagonists, all of whom are women, take their readers through heartbreaking tales of love and sex, and dilemmas caused by the intertwining of the two. Some characters celebrate sexual liberation; some are naïve, wanting love, sacrificing their bodies, their sex and their selves, and the bitter consequences are so affective, you may have to put the book down and take a break to catch your breath.
         The collection begins with, "Beatrice told Shipley she would sleep with him, and then she passed out," the first line of "Standing Up to the Superpowers." In this story, Beatrice deals with her affair with her professor, Fetko, her job in a clothing store, and her encounters with Shipley, which result in bizarre circumstances and odd relationships. In "Alcatraz," thirteen-year-old Roz sleeps with her neighbor, Jennings, and tries to avoid the daily beatings at school by his friend, Garrett. Years later, Roz sadly thinks she finds her "self" by meeting with Garrett in a girls’ bathroom stall. "Bikini" takes the reader through Vanessa’s life, through her relationship with Shawki, who punishes her for wearing a bikini. After her children are grown up, her daughter, Ellen, provides Vanessa with her feminist interpretation of wearing this bikini. In "Almonds and Cherries," film student, Brigitte, makes a gay movie with the encouragement of her live-in French ex-boyfriend, Raoul, and this allows her to explore her sexuality. "Lass" is an account of Shayna’s relationship and marriage to Irishman, Carl, and after they move in with Carl’s famous writer father, Niall Meara, and Carl’s mother, Shayna becomes Niall’s secretary. Shayna and Niall later take a private swim and he shows her how to love without giving all of herself up, which she feels compelled to do. A lingerie store worker in "On the Occasion of My Ruination" has a fling with a high school sophomore, Jonathan, who works at the pizza place across from Angelina’s. Before leaving for college, she loses her virginity, tells Jonathan she loves him, and only begins to learn a hard lesson about life. In "The Brutal Language of Love," Penny, who works at a movie theater, finds a lump in her breast. After her father refuses to help her financially, she tells all to a student as he films a documentary. Later, her boyfriend, Fritz, reveals the secret tape that changes Penny’s views. The craziness in "Still Life with Plaster" indirectly parallels the cast on a gerbil’s leg to that of Patty’s, and the comical dynamics of this family provide an honest look at ambivalent love. The last story of the collection, "When Animals Attack," takes the reader into the life of pregnant Joyce as she meets homeless Ellsworth at the bus station at her mother’s request. Joyce learns that her mother compensates the loss of her far-away children by providing Ellsworth with motherly advice.
         The stories in this collection are daring, and Ms. Erian knows exactly how to keep a reader’s attention. Her interesting characters make heartbreaking mistakes, and one can sympathize with them throughout. The love in the collection is fierce, as a passage in the story, "The Brutal Language of Love" states,

The reality was, you only knew you were loved if you were left and returned to, if you were ignored and then craved. Occasionally you would be seen for slightly less than the sum of your parts, and that was love, too. Love announced itself with a sting, not a pat. If love was love, it was urgent and ripe and carried with it the faint odor of humiliation, so that there was always something to be made up for later, some apology in the works. Love was never clean, never quiet, never polite. Love rarely did what you asked it to, let alone what you dreamed it might do, and it most certainly did not know that your favorite color was blue.