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  • Writer's pictureYennie Cheung

Short Story Month, Day 12: Ethel Rohan

Photo of author Ethel Rohan
Ethel Rohan

Years ago when I ran the Hipster Book Club website, I got an email from Roxane Gay, asking if the HBC would be interested in reviewing a couple of PANK's books. One of them was Ethel Rohan's Hard to Say, a collection of interrelated short shorts, which I read from a .pdf on my laptop while waiting at the LA County courthouse to be selected for jury duty. Despite the inherent distractions of the courthouse, I was transfixed by Ethel's semi-autobiographical stories of a family in Ireland, which also made me increasingly resentful of the idea that at any moment I'd have to stop reading in order to do my civic duty.

I don't remember most of what I wrote in my subsequent review, but I'm sure it was glowing. I loved the distinctly Irish voice and the push/pull of the family's complex love for one another, and I'm still grateful to Roxane for introducing me to Ethel's amazing, heartbreaking work. I'm also really annoyed at myself for not immediately buying a hard copy for myself, as it's out of print and I need to reread this right now. (This is also, incidentally, a reminder to myself that I am behind on reading everything that Ethel has ever published, and I need to remedy this problem.)

The main reason I'm using here "Fracture" is that it was easy to find online (it's on Ethel's website), but I probably could've picked any of the stories from Hard to Say to share as an example of her amazing work. "Fracture" isn't as strongly Irish in tone as some of the other pieces, but you can still get a sense of the young narrator's scrappiness and the tensions within the family. I also like the juxtaposition of the two women in the girl's life here: the need for each of them to care for her, the reactions of the women to her injuries, and her own reaction to their attentions. I like how matter-of-fact the writing can be, as though this young girl is self-aware and in control, though she isn't. In spite of or maybe because of the directness, readers can see that she's not yet aware of how much harm she's doing in an effort to be seen.


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