This collection of wonderfully crafted short stories portray snippets of everyday life in the extraordinary light they deserve. After all, there is never anything ordinary about anyone’s existence, not really. Each story is wrapped carefully in its own tidy package, coming together in the end like the bow on top, just as fine short story writing ought to be.
Ethel Rohan, the author, is Irish but lives in the United States; her stories are set on both sides of the pond, bringing a unique perspective. She experiments with a menagerie of characters and protagonists, from the triplet sisters in the title story, to a middle-aged widow in “Collisions” and the aging priest who is losing his sense of purpose as he is “put out to pasture” in “F is for Something.” Rohan feels her characters, becomes them. And we, her readers, become them too.
“Blindsided” and a few others have a strong hint of Flannery O’Connor but more subtle. As an O’Connor fan myself, I am particularly drawn to these, with their morally flawed and dark characters who exhibit quirky behaviors.
Throughout all her stories, Rohan fixates on eyes, the window to the soul. Mrs. Hennessy in “Bindsided” is “dark-haired and night-eyed” as compared to Dave who is “blond and sky-eyed.” In “Before Storms Had Names,” Rohan describes eyes that are “the color of starlings’ eggs.” And a favorite of mine from “F is for Something:” “…the milk congealed at the top of his tea like cataract clouding a large brown eye.” Indeed each story is a peak into a soul.
Because she believes she may be dying, the protagonist in “The Great Blue Open” performs a daring, secret act. Why do so many of us choose to act on our dreams only when we are pushed to the brink? Why do we settle in inertia? This book contains many such questions.
In “Everywhere She Went,” instead of telling us the protagonist is fed up with her marriage and her husband, Rohan writes: “That groove appears between his eyebrows, like a coin slot in a vending machine. I realize there isn’t anything I want to select from inside him.” As my husband said when I read that line aloud to him—brutal!
Although some of the themes are somewhat controversial, the author manages to maintain a subtle, low-key quality that demonstrates a certain respect for both the topic and the reader, as in “Rare, but Not Impossible.” The woman who has an abortion because she chooses not to have children compares her body to a piano that is not played in that it does not serve its purpose. In “Blue Hot” Rohan addresses cultural acceptance of domestic violence as her character learns the differences between love and ownership.
These tender stories tell the tale of how we all struggle to believe in ourselves, to live larger, to recover from loss. They are beautiful, like people, they form a commonality while expressing at the same time an individuality. I will be reading these stories again.