Ethel Rohan

Fifteen linked very short stories set in Dublin, Ireland about a family, and in particular a mother and daughter, in chaos and crisis. The stories in Hard to Say are built around the broken, brutal, and beautiful. A powerful and at times devastating read.

The stories in Hard To Say, the work as a whole, will knock the breath right out of your lungs. Ethel Rohan’s writing is the real deal: unadorned, brave, compassionate and impossible not to read in one sitting. You’ll want to share this with the people you love best, the ones you trust to understand how painful life can be; and how exquisite, how necessary the expression of that fact, in the hands of a true artist, can also be. — Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

Like the whispered secrets and silent prayers that play throughout, a rising and relentless tension builds. Rohan’s strong, precise prose shines across this collection of lost innocents like a comet made of cut glass. — Amelia Gray, author of Threats

Ethel Rohan’s Hard To Say is simply magnificent. How else to describe these stories where characters, always on the verge of opening their hearts to the world, turn from the chance again and again? The urgency in these stories is so palpable, the tension between mother and daughter so well rendered, I found myself pacing as I read, unable to keep still. Standing on the opposite side of the room, an ache opening somewhere within, there was no need to ask how I’d gotten there. The answer was in my hands. — Eugene Cross, author of Fires of Our Choosing

Ethel Rohan’s stories are small, but they feel vast and bold. And she leads you through them desperately, like a ghost through the ruins of the world. — Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some For the Day

Hard to say, but Ethel Rohan does in tremendous words that hold up a mirror to the struggles of a family, a little girl, a young woman, a mother, a life. The stories in this collection read like crossing a river by way of rocks; unsteady, precarious, exhilarating and scary. But Ethel takes our hand and guides us, showing us a fragile beauty just under the surface. — xTx, author of Normally Special

An Irish daughter struggles with her relationship with her mother, who drinks, beats, goes blind, loses her sanity. The stories in this aptly titled book are relentless, full of terror, frighteningly true. Ethel Rohan’s rhythms will get inside you.
— Matthew Salesses, author of Our Island of Epidemics

Rohan’s ability to create emotive instances with simplistic language of a child’s perspective works wonderfully. Not only does the reader relate to the child, but one also is overwhelmed with empathy for her story. — NewPages

Cut Through the Bone is a collection of thirty intense and powerful very short stories that center on missing parts, incompleteness, and our need to be connected and whole.

“Whether they win or lose their battles, many of Rohan’s characters share [from the title story] Matt and Joyce’s quiet, impossible hunger and the sadness that accompanies it. Rohan never looks past that sadness: she is mindful of her characters’ plights, her prose guided by a careful, focused empathy. And as to the question of how, finally, one prevails–lives with such space, or bridges the gap between the real and the imagined–she gives us an answer. … Which is to say: fake it till you make it.” — Christopher Boucher, The Believer Magazine

“Filled with spot-on details and deceptively simple sentences, Rohan’s stories are, more than anything else, about loss — of children, both born and never conceived, spouses and lovers, parents, body parts, happiness, dreams, self — and about the odd, endearing, and desperate ways that people fill the void or ignore it: by befriending balloons and eating too many nuts, by inventing companions and alter-egos that become more real to them than reality.  They may seek complicity in these imagined worlds, may even occasionally get it — a husband coddles his wife’s doll, a massage therapist massages a ‘ghost’ limb — but, most often, that complicity is sought only from us, the readers, and we are fortunate, indeed, to have been invited.” — Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World

“Cut Through the Bone is full of phantom limbs and phantom lives. 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. In one story a woman pleads, ‘I’m here though? Tell me I’m here.’ Ethel Rohan’s stories are like testaments to all the women and men who’ve asked the same thing of the world. Those folks remain unseen to most, but this truly talented artist isn’t blind. Ethel Rohan is one hell of a writer.”
— Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine

“Each piece in Ethel Rohan’s Cut Through the Bone is as eerily beautiful as the realistic baby dolls in her story “Lifelike”; and you will find yourself, on multiple occasions, believing that you can hear the stories breathing. 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. This is an unsettling and mesmerizing book.” — Kevin Wilson, author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

“In Cut Through the Bone, Ethel Rohan renders, with precision and beauty, lives engulfed by loneliness and loss. Rohan creates worlds at once tremendously recognizable and tremendously strange, and the voices of her characters lingered in my mind long after I finished the final story. 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

“I keep thinking of more and more adjectives in an attempt to describe Ethel Rohan’s moving debut collection, which is at turns beautiful and inventive, tender and absurd, quirky and heartbreaking, dark and strange and devastating.” — Michael Kimball, author of Us

“Ethel Rohan knows a thing or two about singing with the dragonflies, smashing the mayonnaise jar, and biting Fat Greta. In less than a hundred pages, she offers thirty sharp and shapely stories of Shatter and Scraps, of Mirror and Make Over, of Fee Fi Fo Fum At the Peephole. Like one of her protagonists, I spent a few minutes in the white space, listening for the familiar sound of the car’s engine, of the bottles hitting together.” — Kyle Minor, author of In the Devil’s Territory

“Ethel Rohan’s women, despite their wounds, are strong of spirit. She captures their resilience and their surrender in prose that is lean and utterly unflinching.” — William Walsh, author of Re: Telling

“The women of Cut Through the Bone are frequently disappointed — by their jobs, by their husbands and fathers, by their own faces and bodies and temperaments — and also disappointing, to those who they might love, to those who might love them back. Inscribing their fates, Ethel Rohan writes, ‘She is a fool. We are all fools,’ and of course she is right. She writes, ‘God is a fool,’ and of course she is not wrong. Still, it is not all bleakness, for here there is still some true tenderness, there some kindness left unpunished. And so Rohan’s fools go on, tricked once again into believing in the rewards of this promised world, of all the good and the bad and the absolutely human that awaits them—and us—when at last we reach not the end of things but the very center.” — Matt Bell, author of How They Were Found


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