Raised in Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Potomac Review, and Los Angeles Review among many others. Cut Through the Bone was Long Listed as a notable collection by the 2010 Story Prize.
“Rohan’s stories are, more than anything else, about loss . . . and about the odd, endearing, and desperate ways that people fill the void or ignore it.”
“These stories create a sense of loss in the reader, an ache, but thankfully they avoid dull cynicism. Instead, they bear witness to the difficulty of living for oneself while sacrificing for others."
“In this unforgettable collection, Rohan reveals her mastery in finding the danger of ordinary objects, the way they come alive when her characters hold them in their hands.”
"This is a marvelous collection, filled with moments that startle and shatter."
" . . . beautiful and inventive, tender and absurd, quirky and heartbreaking, dark and strange and devastating."
"Ethel Rohan’s women, despite their wounds, are strong of spirit."
There are spaces in my house where there used to be stuffs. Computer stuffs. Television stuffs. Camera stuffs. They left my guitar stuffs. My book stuffs. Brittany’s bike stuffs. Furniture stuffs. Music stuffs.
They left also the door open, so my cat stuffs had gotten into outside spaces. I took the jar stuff that contains her cat treat stuffs into the outside spaces, and I shook the stuffs, and made noise stuffs that sounded like, “BRISBY!” I waited, and saw no cat stuffs, just outside spaces, so after a few minutes, I went back into my home space and looked at all the new spaces.
I called the cop stuffs. They came to my home space and looked at the spaces and took photos of the spaces and dusted the spaces.
I heard scratching. I went and opened my back door and my cat stuffs came running into my inside space. I was so happy, and Brittany was so happy, we were so happy.
* * *
It’s strange to me that Cut Through the Bone deals so much with loss, but not a single story in the collection is about the loss of stuff. I mean, okay, in “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” it centers around the main character’s dentures being lost, which naturally reflects on the loss of her teeth. But, nothing lost in the manner of a theft.
I don’t mean that in a negative way. Really, it makes sense. Stuff is stuff, and I think Ethel knows that. What Ethel goes after in her stories is the body, the relationships, the abstract things like pride and desire and dreams.
It’s strange to know what to say today. My mind is wrapped around the things to get done–insurance claiming, my tech writing assignments, phone calls to my brother about our inheritance from my grandmother who passed last year, emails to publishers for Vouched and TLP, press releases to write, the list, the list, it grows and it never stops.
Last night, I let myself go a little bit after finding they had also taken a backpack that contained a few books I was reading. One book, a copy of Travels with Charley by Steinbeck, is something I can’t get back. It had passages underlined and marginalia from the first time I read it years ago. I’ve been reading it to Brittany before bed, and coming home from seeing a movie to distract ourselves, I wasn’t bothered about not having a TV or laptop. I thought it novel, the lack of technology. I thought, “I’ll read some of Travels with Charley to you and we can go to sleep, and that’ll be nice.”
My shoulders slumped immediately. I almost cried. I said out loud, “The worst thing about this is I know I can’t even dismiss it as thinking they ‘needed’ our possessions because maybe they were unemployed and had mouths to feed.” I said out loud, “When a mother fucker needs a loaf of bread, they steal a loaf of bread. You only steal TVs and shit when you want to bankroll a quarter sack or an eight ball or those shiny new rims.”
I felt awful about myself. I felt stupid like, “Why didn’t we get an alarm system after the last break in?” I felt betrayed like, “I just wanted to trust that our neighborhood is better than this.” I felt racist like, “I hate that I immediately assume it’s the 2 black guys I saw walking up and down the street before I left for work.”
Today, I’ve not felt much at all.
I’m trying to think about Cut Through the Bone, about what I might be able to say today in light of everything. I think about the things lost now in my home. I think about the things lost in the book. I think about the things the characters in the book think about. I think about the story “Shatter,” which you can read online at FRiGG.
This narrator is plagued by accidents, and there’s this numbness about it, a nonchalance in her speech and action, which is basically how I’ve reacted to this whole ordeal (except the blow up last night).
Why get upset about what couldn’t be prevented, what was out of my hands? The police office said something last night that stuck with me, “If people want to get to your stuff, they’ll get to it.”
I want to get mad or bitter or something, but I just can’t. I kind of want to just drink beer and eat some potato chips.The stuff will be replaced. Brittany and Brisby are both safe. My writing and photography and necessary documents are all backed up. So it goes, right?