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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

Story Focus: "How to Kill"

06/08/11

First off, I wanted to thank everyone who participated in the conversation on Monday. It seems talking about unbalance between the respect given to male and female writers strikes a chord. Who’d’ve thought women had opinions about things?!

At any rate, I had an awesome time hearing from everyone, and if you’re joining us now and missed Monday’s post and subsequent comment conversation, feel free to check it out. And you’re still welcome to leave your thoughts in the comments section, of course. The conversation is still rolling on.

Today, I want to focus on a reading of a specific story from Cut Through the Bone, one that continues to chew at me since I first read it a couple months ago, and now, mining the book and my brain for things to write about here, continues to gnaw and gnaw. “How to Kill” (which you can read in full at Hobart) is a story about a relationship trying to make it in the wake of an abortion. We’re never told whether at the time of the abortion the girl was okay with it and is only just now regretting it, but I get the feeling that’s not the case–that she wanted the baby, but he didn’t.

Ethel’s language in this story is masterful in its subtle layers. With each read of “How to Kill” I find another phrase that hints at the hurt and anger that roils beneath the skin of this nameless narrator. The first line, how careful she is not to break the yolk, only becomes truly apparent once the conceit of the story is revealed. Later in the story, how Matt pushes away his plate, “the left overs looking violated,” and I can just see the yolk, now broken and running, perhaps smeared around the plate with toast, a couple corners of crust resting next to the remains of the ketchup, deep red. I don’t think I need to explain the underlying metaphor there.

I don’t want to belabor the gender-card here, but I can’t help thinking of Kyle Winkler’s comment from Monday, “My masculinity has been severely tweezed, judiciously slit-up, and decidedly analyzed thoroughly, and better in some instances, by women more than men,” in relation to my own thoughts and response to this story.

It’s easy to read this story, think simply, “That dude’s a dick,” and move right along to the next story. And you’d be right. And you’d be wrong. But, I think that dude is hurting–in the only way he knows how: tough silence.

Regardless of his relief after the abortion, he still obviously cared about the girl: went with her to the clinic, reassured her, helped her home and in to bed where he laid with her. You see, I knew a guy once who was simply a dick. I tried and still try to extend some ounce of grace to that guy, but I can’t. Unlike Matt in the story, this guy did none of those things. This guy didn’t do much more than offer to pay for half the procedure. We were out for beers when he told me all this. I’d known him a few months, seemed like an okay dude, at least a dude I could laugh with and drink some beers, feel a little bit like I had a pal in a new city. After this night, I never drank with him again.

Years ago, I thought I was going to marry a girl, and then I didn’t think I was going to. A couple weeks after we talked about this, she called again. She said, “I’m late.” I said, “I’m terrified.” She said, “Me, too.” And we did what we thought was right. We gave it another chance under the banner of that common terror.

Once the decision was made, we breathed easier, laughed more. We were both able to convince ourselves that my initial leaving was frozen feet, that maybe this would work. We welcomed the term “expecting” into our lives with talk of baby names and what books I would read to our kid before bed. And just as our terror left, her blood came.

We laid in bed for days, my warm hands resting on her belly, a warming pad. Her body was wracked with cramps and sobbing. I brought food and drink to the bedroom, but we hardly ate any of it. I got a call from my boss, fired for a couple of no-call, no-shows. I wasn’t about to leave.

Of course I left, a few months later. I grew quiet and tired, sullen. Spent hours at the computer writing. Started stepping out for band practice before she got home so I could spend more time alone, less time dodging the conversations about our devastation, until one day, I packed my sedan with what little I cared to own, and left a note.

Reading “How to Kill,” I hated Matt, and hated seeing myself in him. But also, I recognized myself just as easily in the narrator, who seemed to have no choice in the matter of the abortion. This girl and I, we didn’t have any choice. Her body made the choice for us, and all we were left with was the question, “What would have been so terrible about us having the baby?”

I wonder sometimes if men shy away from this fiction because of the way it exposes us to these quiet desperations that we’d rather ignore, because it’s easier for to externalize our conflicts with old men and the sea and fist fights and shooting lions and drinking beer in our front lawns. Like Kyle said, often times it’s female narratives that most deeply expose who we are as men, perhaps because they are not us, but observers, able to render us more true than we allow ourselves due to our egos or ingrained perceptions of how we are supposed to act as men. I don’t know.

All I know is I’m glad for stories like “How to Kill,” stories that render me true, allow me to see both sides of myself. It’s not that reading this story has changed my life, nor do I think it’ll change yours. But it does what all good stories do–provides a mirror through which you can examine who you have been and who you are, and decide who you want to be.

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37 Comments

  1. Ethel Rohan said on 06/08/11 at 12:27 pm Reply

    This post, your insights and your honesty, gave me goosebumps, Chris. I especially love this, “Like Kyle said, often times it’s female narratives that most deeply expose who we are as men, perhaps because they are not us, but observers …”

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/08/11 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks, Ethel! I’m really glad you’re liking all my ruminations on your book here.

  2. Erika said on 06/08/11 at 12:47 pm Reply

    Great post. It is interesting how the mirror that allows us the most insight can oftentimes be the most different. I agree with your comment regarding observation. When someone writes about observing someone or something we can relate to, we are able to see ourselves in a different manner. Sometimes it takes a different path to get to a conclusion we were already aware of. But it’s the travelling of that path that makes such a change.

    Reply

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 10:37 am

    A lovely response, Erika. I love your observations regarding the mirror that how the lens that allows us the most insight is often most different to ourselves.

    I’m very much a character driven writer–most stories come to me with the character first and I run from there. I’ve written several stories from the male POV and the novel I’ve just finished is 3rd person close told through the male POV. I’ve put aside all anxiety and doubt about my writing from the male POV and just told the story that has compelled me for nine years now. I can’t over-think what stories I ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ tell, it’s too paralyzing. I’ve come to peace with the aim to write as best and honestly I can the stories and the characters that compel me, if for no other reason than to try to know what I can’t know.

  3. Thom said on 06/08/11 at 1:08 pm Reply

    I’m just beginning to think through what Chris says here, and that were raised in the earlier discussion. For now I’ll just say it was from reading stories which contain the normalized male reaction to pain, loss, conflict, etc., that I realized my own need to make different choices about how I live. In particular, Larry Brown’s novel Father and Son showed me a lot about who I don’t want to be. Russell Banks’ Affliction, too, although I think that Banks, unlike Brown, intended to challenge in his book the traditional view of masculinity. I’m of course not dismissing the importance of stories like “How to Kill” or Chris’ observations. I just want to record that for some of us, reading Hemingway or Carver is by itself enough to know we don’t want to live in their worlds.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/08/11 at 1:44 pm

    Very true, and I’m by no means trying to reduce masculine literature to being simple and lacking examination. Just some guys can read “masculine” literature and consider it to be an affirmation of traditional masculinity. Other guys, like you and me, read it and feel the opposite, read it and think, “I don’t want to be that guy.” Its objective, almost callous tone lends itself to that varied of a reaction.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Thom. I’m a huge Carver fan and love his stories. I like your thoughts on men’s ‘normalized reactions to pain’ and also think you’ll agree with the thrust of the conversation here, and that is simply a call to allow us the readers to have knowledge of and access to other books by other writers (male and female) that can offer us a similar satisfying experience while also broadening our understanding of what is ‘normalized (or not) reactions to pain’ for me, for you, for others.

  4. Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 1:18 pm Reply

    What a damn good story–it’s like a modern “Hills Like White Elephants,” except a little more complicated.

    And I thought this was a beautiful, touching story you’ve shared, Chris. I can’t help but think that Ethel’s language is what really makes you feel as if you can see yourself in Matt

    As a male writer, though, I must admit that I don’t shy away from these types of “female” narratives but actually consider them to be the one thing in my wheelhouse that I’m quite good at. And I love stories like “How to Kill” because really, I don’t want things to be easy. Life is hard–my favorite art is consistently reminding me of how hard it is to be human.

    Bottom line: I’m more interested in how we ALL can be exposed, women and men. Of course there’s genetic evidence to prove me wrong here, but I don’t think we’re all that different.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/08/11 at 1:35 pm

    Yeah, I kind of wonder how many of the males here at TLP are as predisposed to shy away from female narratives. I think the numbers are in our favor against misogynists here (e.g. there wasn’t a single person in Monday’s post that said, “No way. I don’t want to read about cooking and babies!” So, this might be some musing to the choir, really.

    Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 3:12 pm

    I hope there aren’t there aren’t any, and I hope that if they are that is isn’t happening on a conscious level. that’d be really heartbreaking to me.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 10:47 am

    Thanks Mark C and Chris, ‘some musing to the choir’ perhaps but I’m heartened by these discussions this week and especially loved hearing from those teachers who felt frustrated and limited because essentially they’d male students who resisted reading. Those are the teachers and readers we’re trying to reach, convert and empower. To say to, ‘ this is an excellent book, you and your class (regardless of gender) should read this book …

    Chris Newgent said on 06/09/11 at 11:46 am

    Agreed, Ethel. Something I’d actually really like to do someday with Vouched (time and money willing, should I ever be able to turn it into a job) is to reach out to some local high schools and try to work in at least 1 contemporary work of literature, preferably something from a small press, you know, since that’s what Vouched is all about. But, also, do so as a way to promote the fact that awesome literature is still happening, is still being written, literature that _is today_. Plus, small press/emerging authors are much more likely to do something to connect to the students, like a Skype interview or something of that sort, which I think would be a really awesome way to connect today’s youth to literature–giving them a very tangible connection with a great author.

  5. DK said on 06/08/11 at 2:16 pm Reply

    Good stuff, Chris. Articles like yours help me as a writer, since I’m starting to explore female characters more in my own work and conquer the fear that I’ll somehow get them wrong.

    Also of note: a similar discussion about gender is being had in sci-fi/fantasy circles, where women are becoming a greater portion of the audience, often to the consternation of critics and, unfortunately, some sci-fi/fantasy authors. Interestingly, an even greater number of critics still think that genre fiction is, to quote a NYT reviewer, “boy-fiction,” so clearly they haven’t been paying attention to the changing demographics. Either way, SF/F is one area where more “female” narratives are being demanded by the readership, which provides an interesting contrast to big-L Literature’s numerous gender issues.

    Reply

    Chris Newgent said on 06/09/11 at 10:48 am

    Thanks, man. That’s interesting about fantasy/sci-fi. Is there any push-back from the publishers happening? Or is it just all rumble-grumble, well okay we’ll find some girls who like to write sci-fi?

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 10:50 am

    Thanks, DK. You underscore the importance of readers harnessing their collective power and demanding books relevant to the culture today and that they want to read.

  6. Samuel Snoek-Brown said on 06/08/11 at 2:37 pm Reply

    Really, really cool post. I have to say that I embrace this kind of fiction — I think any story that gives us some insight into human character is a great story, especially when it exposes us to situations or emotions we don’t normally encounter. So as a man, I enjoy reading good stories about the inner struggles of female characters.

    One thing I’m curious about, though, is the gender distinction of perspectives on this subject. Mark C mentioned that Ethel Rohan’s story is “like a modern ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ except a little more complicated.” Is it more complicated because this was written by a woman, while Hemingway’s was written by, well, Hemingway, the Man Among Men? How might our reading of Ethel’s story change is she turned out to be a guy?

    I struggle with this as a writer myself. I recently published a story about a slightly similar situation, actually — a husband and wife struggle with their relationship, and for the wife, that struggle is rooted in a terminated pregnancy. Her actually struggle is rooted in the fact that she never revealed the pregnancy to her husband, so maintaining that secret is a major concern, but that’s not really my point in brining it up. I mention my story because when I first sat dow to write it, I considered making it about an abortion, but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. In the story, it’s a miscarriage. Part of that decision was because I didn’t want to write another “Hills” story (and HUGE kudos to Rohan for pulling that off!), but I confess a larger part of that decision was because I was nervous about how readers might react to my writing an abortion from a woman’s perspective. Of course, I wound up tackling the (arguably) equally huge task of writing a miscarriage from a woman’s perspective, and I have no idea how well I pulled it off, but the point is, I took the “easy” way out by avoiding the controversial subject. And I did so because I’m a guy.

    Thoughts?

    Reply

    Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for inquiring about my comment, Samuel. I think Ethel’s story is more complicated for a multitude of reasons, the most immediate being: a) it’s set in a Post Roe V. Wade/Feminist world, so that automatically introduces a whole new set of ethical values; b) the baby is explicitly brought up and alluded to in the title, instead of just hypothetically/metaphorically discussed like Hemmingway did (I admit that this is more of a personal preference thing than anything else); c) the insight/exposition makes me have an immediate emotional connection with the characters. That’s just some.

    I don’t think I would have felt any different about this story if it were written by a man. In “How to Kill,” I didn’t find myself thinking “this is harder for her because she’s a woman,” or “this is easer for him because he’s a man.” I was more focused on how unfortunate of a situation it was for both parties. And I guess maybe I think that’s a sign of a good storyteller–when they can blend into the background and let their characters and their narrative be the focal point of the conversation.

    Samuel Snoek-Brown said on 06/08/11 at 3:45 pm

    “And I guess maybe I think that’s a sign of a good storyteller–when they can blend into the background and let their characters and their narrative be the focal point of the conversation.”

    Exactly! Ain’t it the goal for all of us? Okay, maybe not all of us — I’ve read plenty of books by authors who love to announce themselves, stylistically, on every page — but I’m on your side of this particular fence. 🙂

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 11:03 am

    Thank you, Samuel and Mark C. I love nothing more than to read stories that expose me to characters, dilemmas, and places I don’t normally encounter or have any real knowledge of. I think what I most love about such reading is that I’m always moved and humbled by the universality of such stories, about how even in the most unlikeliest of scenarios in fiction I’ll see parts of myself and life as I know it and think “yes, that’s just how it is.” I try to reach the place in my stories, ‘yes, that’s just how it is.’ I also write to find out what I do and don’t know.

    Thus I return to my earlier comment about writing the stories and the characters that compel me. I have no agenda in that regard and never force a story, character, situation etc. At some point in the process though I have to figure out ‘why would I tell this story?’ and if a story stops working for me it’s usually because I can’t answer that question satisfactorily, because I don’t have a burning reason to write the story. If I feel that burn, then I tell and honor the story and to hell with worry about limits and ‘shoulds.’ The reason my novel mss has taken nine years to write is because I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer to ‘why would I tell this story, this MAN’s story?’ Why is this story burning to be told by me. But the character and his story wouldn’t go away. And then one day I knew the answer and I finally saw the novel mss through to completion and am just now tweaking and tinkering with it.

  7. Ethel Rohan said on 06/08/11 at 2:58 pm Reply

    I’ll add some further thoughts shortly, but for now I wanted to say how much I admire and respect the tone and quality of the comments in the various discussion threads that Christopher Newgent started. I very much feel like we’re all sitting around a coffee shop talking and thinking and getting excited and inspired and empowered about our common passions. I’m a champion of inclusivity and listening to all of your voices I feel truly heartened about the future of ‘the book.’

    Reply

  8. yrfriendliz said on 06/08/11 at 3:12 pm Reply

    @Samuel — Yeah, as much as I don’t want to be a jerk about subjectivity, as a woman? I’d totally be put off by a man trying to talk about an issue like this from a perspective he really couldn’t ever fully live. Similar arguments can be brought up when trying to assume the subjectivity of a different race. It would be incredibly problematic for me to write from the perspective of a black woman, because I am not and never will be a black woman. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn, listen and try to understand others’ perspectives (just as I can be a GLBT ally but can’t ever presume to speak from that perspective, for instance). I just think people don’t want to hear that there are some things they really can’t do.
    I like Chris’s account of his experience because he only ever tries to be himself.

    Reply

    Samuel Snoek-Brown said on 06/08/11 at 3:27 pm

    I completely agree, and your reaction is precisely what I worried about while writing that story.

    And actually, I wrestle with the race/ethnicity thing, too. I have a few stories from a Mexican-American perspective, though of course I’m not that either. Mostly, though, when writing from a perspective not my own, I tend to write in third-person, so the perspective character is different from me but I’m not overtly co-opting that perspective. Does that make sense? Or am I just fooling myself?

    On the other hand, unless we’re all adhering so slavishly to the “write what you know” axiom that everything is thinly-disguised autobiography, don’t we all adopt perspectives not our own? And if we can so so with sensitivity, is there really anything that wrong with going all the way and adopting a perspective we could never have? It isn’t much different, I think, than reading about perspectives not our own — which is perhaps the point of the Facebook question that led me here: “Do men shy away from fiction about women?” I’m not a woman, but I don’t shy away from fiction about women. Should I?

    Or should I seek the human in every situation and try to embrace that in whatever way I can, regardless of race, gender/gender identity, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic class, etc?

    Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t think I could disagree more, but that’s probably because I’ve never found a correlation between fictional narratives and accurate perceptions. I was thought of these things to be two different beasts. If they weren’t, why do we celebrate the work of people like Alan Warner, Kathryn Bigelow, Jeanette Winterson, Annie Proulx, and countless others whose work deals with things that they themselves did not experience?

    And I say this as a member of the GLBT community. I don’t feel that because I’m openly bisexual that I’m automatically granted some sort of ownership over the subject matter and that anyone who isn’t is excluded from it. We as writers have to earn authority. If it were just bestowed upon us, we’d have a whole lot more good work to read.

    Citing Samuel–“I think any story that gives us some insight into human character is a great story, especially when it exposes us to situations or emotions we don’t normally encounter.” I think that, at its heart, is what good fiction should do. I don’t think we have to be limited by our experiences to make that happen. I wouldn’t expect anyone to agree with me, but that’s just my stance.

    Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 3:45 pm

    sorry for the typos there–fingers were working quicker than my brain was.

    Samuel Snoek-Brown said on 06/08/11 at 3:48 pm

    Mark, I’m so happy you brought up Proulx — I was reading your earlier comment above and wanted to mention her myself. And I’m even happier that you reference Alan Warner — I love Morvern Callar!

    Mark C said on 06/08/11 at 3:56 pm

    God, I love Morvern Callar. I haven’t read it in years, but I’ll never forget those first few lines: “He’d cut His throat with the knife and near chopped off His hand with the meat cleaver. He couldn’t object so I lit a Silk Cut.”

    Cook said on 06/08/11 at 8:36 pm

    I have to agree with Mark about ownership of an experience. The idea assumes a uniformity of experience and interpretation that is entirely unjustifiable. For example, my fiance is Jamaican and gets really annoyed whenever someone tries to include her in African American culture based on the colour of her skin. I’m much more qualified to identify with her experience as an immigrant cultural outsider than many of the authors who consider themselves spokeswriters for all black people.
    Or, as she says it, “Because I have more melanin I have to like Toni Morrison? Fuck that.”

    Also, I have to question some of the assumptions that seem to be floating around about motivations to write and writing from personal experience. I’ve never written a character even remotely like me. The only thing that really drives my writing is curiousity about other people with experience I can’t share. If I were stuck to writing autobiography, I’d never write at all. I already know my story, and I’m bored of it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be getting wrapped up in imaginary people.

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 11:14 am

    YRFRIENDLIZ, thank you for joining the conversation and for your honesty. I think it gets back to the point I’ve made several times now (forgive my repetition!) but I would urge any writer never to feel restricted or limited. If a story or character comes write them out … trust me, if it’s not the story or character you’re ‘supposed’ to tell, the work will fail. That’s why there are no real rules — the proof is in the story and any writer can write about anything any which way once it’s done well.

    As guest-reader at SmokeLong Quarterly, I just accepted a tiny gem of a story about childlessness by Joe Kapitan and was at first surprised and then delighted when I learned the piece was written by a man. I say push beyond our comfort levels both as readers and writers and see what happens, it might just be the best thing ever.

  9. Susan Rukeyser said on 06/08/11 at 3:27 pm Reply

    Loved this story and always enjoy conversations about gender. Ethel says an awful lot in very few words about how couples (mis)communicate. I’m inclined to think the woman convinced herself she wanted the abortion, at the time, and is only now understanding how conflicted she was and still is. I think women are often persuaded to disregard their own doubts and agree with the man’s position. We want to be in agreement. Of course it goes the other way, too, but that’s less traditional. Deference is a hard habit to break, even when it’s at our own expense. I’m delighted by the male response to this story – I think men need to be given credit for understanding/caring about these “female” themes, as of course all stories are ultimately human stories.

    Reply

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 11:21 am

    Thanks, Susan, and yes worthwhile stories are ultimately human stories. You’re also correct in that what’s especially awful in “How to Kill” is how unconsciously both characters came to the decision to abort and then how in its aftermath the woman is painfully conscious of the loss both physically and mentally.

  10. Jordan Blum said on 06/08/11 at 9:23 pm Reply

    Again, I love how brave you Lit Pub leaders are in sharing your personal stories. And like Ethel, I think “often times it’s female narratives that most deeply expose who we are as men, perhaps because they are not us, but observers” is very true. While reading the story, I questioned what I would do if I were that man; I’m not sure, and I never want to find out.

    Too often too many people simplify abortion to be between the fetus and the mother…but what about the father? I always hear about the father not wanting the kid while the mother does; what if it was the other way around? In general, I wonder why some (or most) people don’t consider the father’s opinion as important in the decision of abortion. Really, it’s arguably AS important as the mother’s.

    Reply

    Ethel Rohan said on 06/09/11 at 11:35 am

    Thanks again, Jordan. I agree wholeheartedly with everything here, except that the father’s opinion on an abortion is as important as the mother’s. Yes the couple have equal and vested interests in the fetus, but the woman’s body holds that fetus and it is the woman’s body and psyche that will suffer the trauma, violence and the memory of the abortion.

    I love the empathy you brought to reading “How to Kill” — “I questioned what I would do if I were that man …” Abortion absolutely is and should be about the man. Woman would love that. Men experience it in a different and I think lesser way, unfortunately, and that’s about biology and a whole lot of other issues aside.

    Jordan Blum said on 06/09/11 at 12:38 pm

    I think I should clarify what I meant – I agree that abortion affects the mother more than the father for the reasons you said, but I think that sometimes society acts like the father’s opinion doesn’t even matter. It’s like “the baby is in the mother’s body so it’s her choice alone.” I disagree.

  11. Nora Nadjarian said on 06/09/11 at 10:24 am Reply

    I read this post with interest.
    A story within a story within a story… Isn’t that what our lives are all about? And isn’t abortion a story within another and another and another, like a horrible secret?
    I love that a man has been brave (?), sensitive (?), honest (?) -probably all three- enough to write about this.
    And I’m still thinking about the haunting line from Ethel’s brilliant story: “What would have been so terrible about us having a baby?”

    Reply

    Jordan Blum said on 06/09/11 at 12:42 pm

    I agree that the line is haunting, and I think it is because of its universality. Anytime anything tragic happens, we ask ourselves (and perhaps a higher power) “What would have been so terrible if [tragic event] DIDN’T happen?”

    Chris Newgent said on 06/09/11 at 9:46 pm

    Thank you, Nora. That question haunts on so many levels, and I think Jordan encapsulates it really well regarding how universal the question can be applied. Everyone has regrets, you know? Everyone, I believe, has asked that question of their live at some point.

  12. Dawn. said on 06/09/11 at 12:58 pm Reply

    Very touching post, Chris.

    I wonder sometimes if men shy away from this fiction because of the way it exposes us to these quiet desperations that we’d rather ignore, because it’s easier for to externalize our conflicts with old men and the sea and fist fights and shooting lions and drinking beer in our front lawns.

    I think you’re right about this. Of course I love plenty of “traditionally masculine” literature, there is tremendous value there, but there will always be fear when stepping outside of the deceptively protective box of gender norms. Everyone wants to be “normal,” no matter how impossible being that word is. You’d rather ignore the quiet desperations because those desperations are not culturally sanctioned. After all, “men don’t cry.”

    Reply

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