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Ethel Rohan

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.

Blurbs

“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.”

– LORI OSTLUND, AUTHOR OF THE BIGNESS OF THE WORLD

“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."

– Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine

“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.”

– Kevin Wilson, author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

"This is a marvelous collection, filled with moments that startle and shatter."

– Laura van den Berg, author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us

" . . . beautiful and inventive, tender and absurd, quirky and heartbreaking, dark and strange and devastating."

– Michael Kimball, author of Dear Everybody,

"Ethel Rohan’s women, despite their wounds, are strong of spirit."

– William Walsh, author of Pathologies

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Cut Through the Bone

A Fresh Loss

06/22/11

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.”

Nope.

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?

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30 Comments

  1. Jordan Blum said on 06/22/11 at 2:55 pm Reply

    That’s terrible! So sorry to hear (or read) that. Hope you get your stuffs. I see your point about not getting mad over things we can’t control. Two years ago, while at a movie at Franklin Mills mall in Philly (if anyone knows that place), someone cut two of my tires. I came out and my whole left side was flat. I was furious at having to call a ride home, leave my car overnight at a shop, and pay $170 for new tires. But it was out of my control, and as my dad says, “the best problems are the ones that go away with money.” Similarly, I’m liking going to be out of my Verizon job soon and I had nothing to do with it. I’m part of a third party contractor and if Verizon decides to let my company go, well, that’s that. Nothing I can do about it so I can’t get mad. As angry and sad as we’d like to feel, it won’t accomplish anything because we can’t blame ourselves. We just have to move on and feel [forced?] optimism.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:22 pm

    Yeah, man. There’s much better ways to spend energy than on anger. Today, I worked from home so I could have a bit more freedom with time. I got some work done, took a long break to go to a hardware store to by some seeds and potting soul. I bought a couple bushy daisy plants for Britt to plant in our back yard. I snagged some pallettes from the dumpster area for a compost bin. Much better to do with creation than with anger.

  2. yrfriendliz said on 06/22/11 at 3:04 pm Reply

    I’m so sorry about this. Before I moved to Colorado I left my job at the art gallery in Rochester, NY. My boss took me out for hot chocolate and I talked about how hard it was to leave my stuff behind (I owned VERY LITTLE when I got here since I couldn’t afford to move things cross country). She explained that she and her now husband lost everything they owned in a fire, and it made them realize that really? Leaving stuff behind wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Then she told me to please, please get renter’s insurance.
    It’s ok to be angry, but this too shall pass. I’m sorry it had to happen to you — you’re a good seed.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:25 pm

    It’s funny, really. I always used to be a hermit. In college, I moved 12 times over the spans of 4 years. Everything I owned could fit easily into my little sedan: books, clothes, guitar, computer. I’ve never been a stuff person, and really, I’m not even too concerned about the electronics. What most bothers me about the whole thing is the time and money wasted dealing with police, with insurance, with reacquiring, with securing. Thanks for the kind words, Liz.

  3. Jacob said on 06/22/11 at 3:11 pm Reply

    It’s a nice piece of writing to come from a really shitty thing. First round’s on me next time you’re up in Chicago, man.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks, man. I’m actually thinking I’ll spin that first section into a prose poem or something. I’ll take you up on that round soon enough, good sir. I miss the faces of you Chicago-folk.

  4. Roxane said on 06/22/11 at 3:18 pm Reply

    Chris! I am so sorry about this break-in and everything you’re having to deal with. SO glad your cat came back. This was well said, all of it.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks, Roxane! I’m still working on that baby elephant for you.

  5. em said on 06/22/11 at 4:27 pm Reply

    So sorry about the loss of the stuffs. So sorry. I remember being a kid in LA and I was walking to the garage to grab 2 capri sun for my mother to put into our lunches and I noticed the garage door wide open & a car that just sped off. I saw our 4 bikes missing: my parent’s and my sister’s and mine. My father’s tools were all gone. Some of his camera equipment gone as well. But all 4 of us were there. Together. So it goes – now it’s only 3 of us. But we’re here and that’s what counts.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:31 pm

    Oooo! Grrrr! Bike thefts are the worst! The farthest corners of Hell are reserved for those who steal bikes, and the farthest of the farthest for those who steal bikes from children!

    I’m sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad you have the support around you that you have. I hope you have a bike again, and I hope you love it.

  6. Ethel Rohan said on 06/22/11 at 5:08 pm Reply

    Chris, I’m so sorry this happened to you and Brittany again. That you still took the time today to write this post speaks to your worth and character and yet again I find myself reading your posts and thinking, “You’re unbelievably open, reliable and generous, Chris, a beautiful soul.”

    You’ve every right to feel angry and disappointed. When we’re robbed, it’s the trespass and violation that’s more awful than the loss. The key to experiencing healthy anger, frustration and disappointment is to feel it, acknowledge it and then move on. (I paid thousands in therapy to learn that :-))

    Interestingly, I do have a story about stolen “stuffs” in Hard to Say titled “Robbed.” Much of the story is true and taken from my childhood. The trauma of seeing a violent store robbery and its aftermath on the victim still stays with me. I am forever appalled by the mindless violence and trespasses some humans can inflict.

    Again, I’m sorry. Again, I’m so impressed with you. There is good fortune in bad and if anyone can find it, you will.

    Thanks again for coming back to Cut Through the Bone when you have so much else to deal with.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:45 pm

    Ethel, thank you for all of these kind words, every one of them. It’s a small, good thing to push into your book. It’s nice to have words to think on, rather than spaces and stuffs. It’s nice to have this thing here at TLP to be committed to, to push my brain. It’s nice to have your book to be committed to, to push my brain. I still need to get a copy of Hard to Say actually.

    Dawn. said on 06/22/11 at 11:01 pm

    Robbed is a phenomenal story, Ethel. It really got my heart pumping. I can see how it came from a true place.

  7. Richard Thomas said on 06/22/11 at 5:36 pm Reply

    I chased a bike thief down the street in a full suit and tie, in dress shoes. Yeah, I didn’t catch him. So it goes, indeed. Be glad it’s just stuff and that they weren’t there when you came home. Life is more important than stuff, every time.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/22/11 at 5:43 pm

    Was it your bike or were you being a good Samaritan?

    Richard Thomas said on 06/23/11 at 4:38 pm

    oh it was my bike, that’s how i knew it was being stolen! ha…although maybe tackling random bicyclists could turn into a fun hobby

    that’s why they call it a home invasion, you feel dirty and violated, invaded – sorry you had to go through that

    tlp said on 06/24/11 at 9:32 am

    I’ve luckily never had my bike stolen. I’d probably murder someone. I’m a bike commuter, so having my bike stolen would be like having my car jacked.

  8. GBoyer said on 06/22/11 at 7:12 pm Reply

    I want to say I’m sorry for what happened to you. Although, I don’t know you, and so am somehow unjustified in offering my condolences, I have had a similar thing happen. While I was living in China.

    I also walked around pointing fingers in my mind, mostly at students I didn’t like. (I lived on school grounds.) And the police seemed so ineffectual. And the administrators kept trying to blame me somehow. Terrible.

    But yes. That sense of, “at least this,” and then discovering it’s not there. That idea of, “This’ll be a pleasant break from my technological dependence,” and then the wound returns.

    And so. My condolences.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/23/11 at 8:25 am

    I wouldn’t say you’re any more or less justified in sending condolensces. You’re another human being. The power of empathy is a great and wonderful thing.

    I’m sorry to hear it happened to you, also, and even worse probably being in a completely different country, a completely different culture.

  9. Dawn. said on 06/22/11 at 11:00 pm Reply

    That’s so awful, Chris. Particularly about the book. But this is a beautiful post, so thank you for sharing.

    That’s what terrifies me the most. Trespasses, violations. I don’t know what that means, but it’s like the clock that rings alarms through me.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/23/11 at 8:22 am

    Thanks, Dawn. You know, it’s funny. I can tell that on some level, I’m distressed by it. I’m a bit snappier than normal, things are annoying me more, I was out with friends last night and wasn’t nearly as talkative, things like that. But there’s no real overt feeling of being violated or trespassed. I can’t really explain it–sort of like a disconnect keeping me from feeling awful about it all.

  10. ydde said on 06/22/11 at 11:37 pm Reply

    Man, that sucks. The house I lived in a few years ago got robbed. All my Disney vhs were taken. That was all they stole of mine, which seemed kind of vindictive, like they wanted to steal my childhood, because they stole expensive things mostly, like a laptop, playstation 2, and DVD player.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/23/11 at 8:19 am

    That completely sucks. There’s a Goodwill store a few miles from my house where you can find pretty much every Disney VHS ever. Maybe you can reclaim some of your childhood checking out second-hand stores like that?

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/23/11 at 8:03 pm

    I wish I had a collection of Disney VHS.

    tlp said on 06/24/11 at 9:33 am

    Seriously, Molly. You should check your local Goodwill.

  11. DK said on 06/23/11 at 11:56 am Reply

    Sorry to hear about the break-in, Chris. My parents were subject to a few of those when they lived in Baltimore back in the mid-70s, and my car got broken into a couple of months ago, which shook up my ordinarily-safe/quiet neighborhood a bit. I remember feeling anger similar to yours because they DIDN’T take anything, like my possessions were somehow beneath people who were desperate enough to break into cars.

    Then my friend told me about the time someone kidnapped him in West Baltimore – he had to drive the guy all around the ghetto for a couple of harrowing hours. That made me feel a little better. I’ll share that story here if you think it would help.

    Reply

    tlp said on 06/24/11 at 9:34 am

    Whoa. Whether it’d help or not, you should share it just because it sounds crazy.

    DK said on 06/24/11 at 12:42 pm

    Okay, I will!

    My friend was living in a sketchier part of west Baltimore at the time, and was leaving a bank when some guy came at him with a gun and asked where my friend’s car was parked. He then forced my friend to drive him around extremely not-safe areas of Baltimore all afternoon while he picked up and distributed drugs. The guy also took $20 from my friend before disappearing into a housing project and leaving my friend to find his way out of Scarytown by himself.

    Now here’s the weird part, which I swear I am not making up: my friend had his high school class ring on, which his kidnapper noticed because he’d also gone to school there. They apparently had what my friend considered a very pleasant, candid conversation (under the circumstances) about teachers and classes they’d each had.

    Baltimore has interesting crime.

  12. Ryan W. Bradley said on 06/23/11 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Sorry to hear about another break-in, Chris, but the way you discuss the effect, the connection to literature is so eloquent and engaging. The way your enthusiasm and positivity tends to shine through even in dark times, even when you’re explaining the negative feelings you had is something I greatly admire.

    Reply

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/23/11 at 8:02 pm

    Hi Ryan, you just inspired me to say that I really admire this about Chris, too.

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