Erian, Alicia 1968(?)-
Erian, Alicia 1968(?)-
Born c. 1968 in NY; married David Franklin (divorced). Education: State University of New York at Binghamton, B.A., 1989; Vermont College, M.A.
Writer, film director, and screenwriter. During early career, worked in a grocery store and as a movie theater projectionist; worked briefly at Books Etc., London, England, in the accounts department; University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, former writing instructor; Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, currently creative writing instructor; has also worked in Ireland.
The Brutal Language of Love (short stories), Villard (New York, NY), 2001.
Towelhead (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Also contributor of stories to periodicals, including Zoetrope, Playboy, Iowa Review, and Nerve.
Film rights to Towelhead have been sold.
In Alicia Erian's debut collection of nine short stories, The Brutal Language of Love, her characters experience different kinds of love—love among family members, romantic love, and love without the trappings of domesticity or romance. The protagonists, ranging from early adolescence to young womanhood, try to tease apart the fibers of lust, power, and true feeling that hold their relationships together, but they do not always succeed. A number of Erian's stories are set at college, where relationships between students and teachers are often a subject. In "Standing up to the Superpowers," for example, college upperclasswoman Beatrice flirts outrageously with her professors for higher grades, but she ignores the overtures of a freshman who offers real love.
In "Almonds and Cherries" a sexually ambivalent film student creates a short film about a sensual experience of shopping for bras, only to have her lesbian film professor accused of pushing her sexuality on her students. Vanessa, another college student, begins dressing provocatively in high school to torment her modest sister. In college, however, she gets involved with a religiously conservative Egyptian exchange student who divides her closet into two classes: acceptable and nonacceptable. Although he dumps her off his boat an hour's swim from shore for wearing a too-skimpy bikini, she decides to marry him. Love is never simple or straightforward in Erian's stories, as is implied by her treatment of both amorous and family love. In "Lass" a young woman marries the son of a well-known novelist. When she and her husband move in with her in-laws, she is drawn to the writer: "Shayna, who could never get through her famous father-in-law's books …," stated Library Journal contributor Barbara Hoffert, "falls for him anyway."
Reviewers have been generally impressed with Erian's first collection, although some maintained a few doubts. Barbara Sutton, who reviewed the book for the New York Times, wrote: "What's appealing about the young women who populate Alicia Erian's first book … is not how central sex is to their lives: it's how sex seems to be the no-brainer part of their romantic liaisons." Sutton admired Erian's wry humor and her characters' "almost paradoxical innocence." Hoffert wrote in similar terms: "Erian has a way of creating situations that make one read compulsively, like a guilty pleasure." A Publishers Weekly reviewer declared that "elegant, deadpan prose, engaging scenarios and a host of sexy, resilient characters distinguish Erian's superb debut collection."
Sex is also the central theme in Erian's first novel, Towelhead. Inspired by her memories as a child of a disastrous stay with her divorced father, the novel involves a young Arabic girl named Jasira, who is sent to live with her father. He is an overbearing, controlling man who hits her and tells her to break up with her boyfriend because he is black. On the other hand, he does not notice that his neighbor, Mr. Vuoso, is making inappropriate advances to Jasira. The girl's burgeoning sexuality confuses the situation further because of her mixed feelings of desire and revulsion for Vuoso. Critics of Towelhead acknowledged that Erian tackles a challenging theme more or less successfully. Because the book is set during the time of the first Gulf War, Booklist contributor John Green observed that there seems to be some intention on the author's part for the story to be a political parable of some kind, but the theme of sexual molestation "consumes the novel" instead. Still, Green added that Erian's decision to tell the story using Jasira's voice "gives power to this heartbreaking, utterly realistic story." A Publishers Weekly critic had problems with the writing style, which the reviewer found "clunky," but added that "as a meditation on race, adolescence and alienation, the novel has moments of power." Rebecca Stuhr, writing in Library Journal, similarly concluded: "The [book] …, if not exquisitely written, is both poignant and engaging."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2005, John Green, review of Towelhead, p. 1060.
Boston Globe, April 26, 2005, David Mehegan, "Passion & Pain: For Alicia Erian, It's the Dark Side of Sex that Is the Most Intriguing," interview with the author.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2001, review of The Brutal Language of Love, p. 127; January 15, 2005, review of Towelhead, p. 69.
Library Journal, March 1, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Brutal Language of Love, p. 132; February 15, 2005, Rebecca Stuhr, review of Towelhead, p. 114.
New York Times, May 13, 2001, Barbara Sutton, review of The Brutal Language of Love.
Observer (London, England), April 3, 2005, Rebecca Seal, review of Towelhead.
Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2001, review of The Brutal Language of Love, p. 183; February 28, 2005, review of Towelhead, p. 41.
BookReporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 1, 2005), Carol Fitzgerald and Shannon McKenna, interview with the author.