Cut Through the Bone
by Ethel Rohan
Dark Sky Books
"I held my first two
fingers to her wrist, too squeamish to look at the dark blue veins.
'Well?' she asked.
'Sshh, I’m counting.'
'I’m here, though?' she whispered. 'Tell me I’m here.'"
Reviewed by Annie Clarkson
Ethel Rohan has written a raw collection of thirty short stories, mainy
only stretching to a few pages. The collection reaches a mere 113
pages, but she uses brevity to take us right into the heart of her
stories; moments of crisis, loss, trauma and realization in the lives
of her vivid characters.
Tracey in On The Loose experiences a trauma working in a gas station. In More Than Gone a woman talks to a balloon about her dead husband. In Lifelike a woman gives up work to nurse her lifesize baby dolls. In The Bridge They Said Couldn’t Be Built a woman talks a man down from the Golden Gate Bridge. In Fish two sisters are about to turn off their mum’s life support.
are stories of grief, alcoholism, sexual assault, a botched facelift,
separation, the death of a child, adoption, illness, and other such
hard-hitting subject matter. Rohan approaches difficult issues with
sensitivity and in unexpected ways. Tender and disturbed,
heart-thumping and poignant, these stories deal with complex emotions.
Yet, they are simply written and contain beautiful images: "His
fingernails are broken black ecosystems."; "Her words tattooed me."
of Rohan’s characters are worn down, broken, empty, and yet they
respond in surprising ways. We might think we are being taken in one
direction, and then we are taken in another; we expect one ending and
are given another.
The writer has a quirky imagination. For instance, in Found and Lost a baby appears in a woman’s life and then disappears.
I phoned the police and child services. Finders keepers, they said and hung up.It
is a strange and wonderful idea that the writer explores to expose the
emptiness in a woman’s life, her longing and need. An unusual story,
but then there are many of these in Cut Through The Bone.
In Fee Fi Fo Fum, the careless and uncaring workers in the old people’s home lose Rose’s dentures, so she finds her own. In Next to the Gutter,
a boy’s mother leaves post-it note instructions for him all round the
house, so he writes one of his own: "He arrived home from school and
slipped into the dead feeling." In my favourite story Crazy,
a girl who struggles to be good at home economics is made to show
everyone the apron she has made, and responds by acting crazy like her
mum who has mental health problems.
It’s hard to convey the
strength and originality in this writing, and perhaps the only word
that might sum up the way I felt after reading some of these stories is
Some stories were not as strong and not all of them worked as well. But, the very good stories in Cut Through The Bone
are haunting and truly stunning. Rohan creates some interesting
juxtapositions as characters meet each other, as they come into contact
with others losses. She shows us the absences in their lives, the empty
spaces, the holes; the people who are missing or dead or who are
emotionally not there.
|Annie Clarkson is a poet and short
story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems Winter Hands was
published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been
published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Brace
(Comma), Unsaid Undone (Flax Books), Transmission, Ouroboros Review,
Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, Cake, and Pank magazine.