At its start, Brick was a collection of reviews, and at its heart still is. The editors say, “Brick’s mandate remains unchanged: to create a beautiful product filled with the most invigorating and challenging literary essays, interviews, memoirs, travelogues, belles lettres, and unusual musings we can get our hands on.”
The journal casts a wide geographical net, and the opening essay “The Map of My Village” by Amitava Kumar is a two-page intersection in which Kumar weaves class division in India, writing style, and (surprisingly) bathrooms into a backdoor critique of some failings of the modern world. Another essay portrays Cuban history through the eyes of a visitor being lead on a tour of Cuba’s oldest graveyard. Throughout the journal, we travel to faraway lands, like in the featured fiction, “The Looking Ahead Artist” by Patrick deWitt, which is an entirely different and unsettling read.
The journal also has a foot in theatre and film. David Thomson’s review praises Clio Barnard’s film rendition of Andrea Dunbar’s play The Arbor. Thomson applauds Dunbar for her honesty and bravery and Barnard for her successful translation of it to the screen. The Arbor, which won Best New Documentary Filmmaker for Dunbar at Tribeca, is made even more enticing by Thomson’s review. He characterizes it as “a slice of untidy, wounded life,” a sentiment that recurs throughout the journal—which tends to prefer the bleak post-modern abyss.
The interview with Canadian author and translator Anne Carson was one of the most gripping interviews I’ve read. It revealed Carson’s brilliant tendency to accidentally speak poetic, philosophical truths. It’s no surprise that the interview kept circling back to philosophy, as half of her project is a translation of a Greek poem. Carson unravels the story of her brother’s death—the inspiration for her book—and its effect on her family. An intellectually provocative conversation, Carson speaks honestly about the fragmentation of observing a relative’s life, which opens into a discussion about the possibility (or impossibility) of a coherent “self” and the gap between experience and documentation. Her discussion of poetry as a slippery, elusive beast lets the conversation drift along the subject of dreams, voice, the uncanny, and attemp to piece together a story. Her two poems that follow take on a new intimacy. In “Father’s Old Blue Cardigan,” Carson’s attempt to mimic her father’s masculinity, to be manly in his absence, is all the more powerful.
I did, however, receive some essays with less enthusiasm. “Cosmology” adopted an overly reverent tone that became distracting and a bit off-putting. And “Leonora Carrington, Bride of the Wind” about surrealist Mexican painter Carrington never quite came together for me. It drifted between genres (personal interview, an expose of romantic pursuits, and biography) a fragmentation that made the piece feel directionless. These two were merely blips on the radar though—and it’s possible others may enjoy them.
The most stunning essays in Brick are those where the artistry of the writers matches their subject matter. Colm Tóibín deftly traces James Baldwin coursing through American jazz, our nation’s history, and Baldwin’s literary fathers and peers. In “Baldwin and ‘the American Confusion,’” Tóibín offers an insightful exploration of Baldwin and his successes as an American thinker and writer. His synthesis of Baldwin’s writing impressively paints Baldwin in a critical and honorable light.
Similarly, Lisa Moore’s prose sings in her “Mavis Gallant in Malibu” as she lyrically shares her experience of reading Gallant. She makes Gallant seem like the most captivating writer writing today: “Gallant is the kind of writer who can wring a wry smile out of a question mark or a fast, slick aside. Here is satire, but Gallant does something very difficult and rare—her satire is neither cruel nor condescending but, against odds, compassionate.”
Brick offers a plenitude of fascinating essays, reviews, and three feature interviews that expose the offbeat, the unique, and the relevant.