A review of Briefs by John Edgar Wideman

Reviewed by Sheri Harper

Briefs Stories for the Palm of the Mind
by John Edgar Wideman
2010, Paperback: 168 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0557310043

Okay, I have to admit that I spoiled the author’s expectation that I would do a quick search through the tales and pick two to compare and not bother to read the rest, see “Review” from “Briefs” by John Edgar Wideman. And for good reasons.

First of all, in “Briefs” John Edgar Wideman will make you laugh. One of the funniest comes from this letter to Madonna titled “Dear Madonna” where he comes to grips with why and how a person would write to a well known celebrity. Other tales are funny in an ironic sort of way, like “Manhole” where he tells of an experience on his daily jog or “Ruins” featuring a conflict with his wife over why an author named Pepe used a certain phrase in a work of fiction.

Second of all, “Briefs” has much insight into the writing life for other authors and readers, especially regarding the short short, or flash fiction form. John Edgar Wideman’s story “Plot” provides a potent example of what plot can mean in a short tale. “Hunger” tells of a meeting of authors probably at a conference in amusing detail. Quite a number of the stories have chilling examples of voice, including “Bedtime Story” told by a father about the genealogical meaning of being a parent and “Story” told by a father taking care of his child.

Last of all, John Edgar Wideman is able to tap into the readers emotions. He starts by sharing his experiences with the criminal justice system in a number of tales including one that anyone who has received a call from someone in jail can relate to titled “AT&T”, “Thirteen”, a tale of a young man that makes a mistake, “Ghetto” and “Condemned”, but even more powerfully in “Cry In”, where only the emotion is examined, the emotion of hearing news that hurts too bad to share. Other tales deal with the issue of race including “A Story About Color for Children Born With Many”. More fun are some of his sensual tales including “Scherezade” where two lovers deal with past loves in an unusual fashion and “Crossover” telling the tale of a woman who deals with sex games and “Renovation” which deals with intimacy in a dysfunctional couples relationship.

Overall, the stories paint very clear pictures, sometimes reading more like prose poetry, sometimes like anecdotes, sometimes with surprising turns, sometimes just resonating in lush language. I had a fun time reading the tales in Briefs and found it enticement to play with tales of my own.

About the reviewer: Sheri Fresonke Harper is a poet and writer. She’s been published in many small journals and is working on her second science fiction novel. See www.sfharper.com