• RecRead: Cut Through the Bone

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 4 comments

    I’ve been an Ethel Rohan fan since pubbing a short short of hers over at Fringe. I mean, just look at the first paragraph (I’m centering because my block quoting function is effed):

    Our office was a carnival of massive men with thick necks; big women with immense breasts; and tall, skinny, tattooed me with huge feet. Most of the women regarded me with that stew of pity and disgust usually reserved for hookers. Most of the men, with twitchy lips and sad innuendo, intimated I could be their dirty little secret.

    How good is that? “Illustrated Girl” is, in my mind, exactly the kind of story that Fringe readers are looking for from us. So I was a bit surprised to find only one comment on the story’s Discussion page, and even more surprised to see that this comment was the following pile of weird and wrong:


    Anywho. As soon as Dark Sky released her story collection Cut Through the Bone, I picked it up. And by “picked it up” I mean weaseled my way into obtaining a free copy, because I’m a broke-ass writer. (Sure, so is Ethel Rohan … but who has time these days for teamsmanship?)

    I’d like to turn around and sell the thing for pure profit, but there’s a problem—the book is now marked up with all sorts of checkmarks, double checkmarks, one triple checkmark (very rare), and a bunch of “Ha,” “This line is excellent,” and “Reread this one.” (And also one very prominent “Ask Ethel what the hell she was thinking here.”)

    I’ve decided that Cut Through the Bone is the perfect book for smokers. The longest story checks in at just under 2,000 words, and many of them are little, if any, longer than the equivalent of two pages. In fact, it is quite possible that I had a cigarette in my hand the entire time I read this collection. Which makes me sound like a chain smoker. Which is not my intention. What I mean is, I read the book in six-minute, tobacco-ridden snatches over a week or so. This may be the first book that I’ve read exclusively off-the-toilet and out-of-doors. It smells like Pall Mall and pollen. (How many pointless one-clause one-liners can this idiot fit into one paragraph?)

    There are thirty stories here, the majority of them narrated by women unfulfilled in their careers and/or love/family lives. We start with “More Than Gone,” in which an elderly woman has recently lost her husband of fifty-six years. She has just returned from a family gathering with a balloon, on which she draws a face and then begins to talk to it. Many writers would be tempted to have this narrator address the balloon as if it were her deceased husband—a mistake—but Rohan’s narrator tells the balloon story after story as if it’s an old friend she’s just reunited with. After she makes another cup of tea, we read: “Back at the table, the balloon’s face is in shadow. She continues with her stories, thinks how the balloon is leaking by the second, emptying. She can just about remember being so young that she’d cry over a burst balloon.”

    Let’s take a look at “Reduced.” In this one, a husband makes repeated passive-aggressive remarks to his wife about her drinking, and she offers no response. Together at a restaurant, she orders a glass of wine and the husband says, “Your fifth? Sixth?” Then we read, “I looked out the window. A girl pulled an aggressive three-point turn in her red SUV and snagged the parking space right outside the restaurant. I should drive like that, take.”

    How much richer is that line with the simple addition of the word “take?”

    Or how about in “The Long Way,” when the narrator stands next to two other girls at the bathroom sink. The girls are joking around and preening in the mirror. When they laugh they “show the dark pink holes of their throats.” Then the girls make eye contact with the narrator, “their upper lips pulled back, as thin and pale as deli ham.” That, my friends, is the kind of descriptive language we should all be aiming for.

    In “Vitals,” an exacting, overbearing doctor treats his wife as little more than a cook/waitress, and his son decides to never follow in his footsteps. One morning, while the doctor is out, the son slides into his parents’ bed and his mother asks him to check her pulse. Mother and son have the following exchange:

    “Well?” she asked.

    “Sshh. I’m counting.”

    “I’m here, though?” she whispered. “Tell me I’m here.”

    Every story in the collection could end this way and I never would become bored with it.

    My only complaint about Cut Through the Bone is that it doesn’t list the magazines in which these stories were previously published. As a litmag dweeb, I find that annoying. As a litmag editor, I find it … well, frustrating on behalf of some of the fine editors at the fine publications these pieces first appeared in. Let’s hope Dark Sky takes care of this for future titles.

    Anyway, we highly recommend this one. The book is available here in our library. Page through it next time you’re at Write Here, or take it home with you if you’re a WBN member.

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    A. Kimmerly

    Wow. What a beautiful poem! David, am thrilled! Keep it up!


    Really, though. I want to read this collection!

    David Duhr

    The WBN library houses many, many good poems. You know where to find it, Kimmerly. But do you know when?

    Ethel Rohan

    Thanks so much again, David.

    And thank you, Amanda, I hope you enjoy Cut Through the Bone. Cheers.

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