In the Event of Contact
Dzanc Books, €12.99
Much has been made of the recent crop of contemporary short story writers, their rise through the literary journals, their appearance at all the top literary festivals.
Less well-known in Ireland, lamentably so, is the author Ethel Rohan – born here and now living in America – who, I believe, should be included on every ‘To Be Read’ list.
Her recent collection In the Event of Contact, left an indelible mark on me, the vulnerable characters and their complex lives resonating long after I had finished the book.
Each story is a foray into the human condition, a rich chronicle of the lives of flawed characters who seek and often do not find the human connection they long for – the teenage farm boy who competes with his father and a cocky visitor for the attentions of a female lodger; a triplet who cannot bear to be touched by anyone; a grumpy lollipop man who is knocked down by a truck and ends up being cared for by a buxom woman he fantasises about dating.
Each story is a superbly written slice of life, an ‘arrow in flight’ as Mary Lavin once described the short-story form.
In ‘Into the West’ I winced at the mother’s cutting comments when she visits her son in New York, but also felt the weight of his longing for connection when she leaves him at the airport.
In ‘Everywhere She Went’ the narrator battles the guilt she feels over the disappearance of her best friend when she was 10 and many years later allows her feelings fracture her relationships.
“To this day, her sky eyes hang over everything.” She pushes her boyfriend away, who claims: “Not everything has to end badly, you know.” But for her it does.
Margo, the returning emigrant of ‘Rare But Not Impossible’, feels out of place, her accent marking her as different, as well as her reluctance to have children.
This sense of alienation also pervades ‘F is for Something,’ where the ageing priest battles dementia and loneliness, and the young woman putting up with domestic violence in ‘Blue Hot.’
What I enjoyed most about this stunning collection were the thematic chimes throughout the stories and the illuminating imagery and metaphors that bolster the narrative – the unused piano, the colliding planets.
The dialogue is rich, infused with brilliant colloquialisms, the descriptions beautifully evocative, “the distorted sky and melded moon”.
An absolute treat.