You would like to think that the love the young women (and men) experience in Alicia Erian’s collection The Brutal Language of Love is not normal–that people don’t really treat each other that way–but it is, they do.

My favorite story in the collection, “Still Life with Plaster,” shows most perfectly how this angry dance keeps marching on, as it gives us a glimpse of Patty and her family and how they love each other and hate each other. This story gives us a reason for maybe why so many of the other people in the other stories allow themselves to be treated the way they do–because of the brutal language of love, where love and hate become synonymous:

I punched Cliff but he just sat there, watching the three of them cry and yell and carry on. They hated each other and lied to each other, and it was probably all Grandpa’s fault. I thought they were very complicated, very smart people, and I wondered if I would ever make anyone mad enough to attack me. So far the only people who hated me were the kids at school, who I didn’t even like. I vowed to find someone I could fight with–someone with a Class 4 license like Dalton’s, who lived in the country and didn’t mind the smell of his own shit. Together we would struggle and tussle and lie, and when it was all over, we would sit down and watch TV while the dog tested our patience from the doorway.

Here’s a link to Erian’s When Animals Attack–a story from the collection, which first appeared in The Barcelona Review.

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