Welcome to Ethel Rohan, author of THE WEIGHT OF HIM. I asked Ethel to tell us about the inspiration for her first novel. Thank you, Ethel, for sharing with us!
I’ve always claimed my stories are inspired by character. First, the who of the story comes to me—a person, or sometimes even an animal or object. Then location, where the story takes place. Next, I set about filling in other essential details like what happens, and when, and how, and most importantly why. Recently, though, I’ve realized it’s more precise to say that my stories are sparked by startling moments.
Like the time a young man who had his leg amputated said the phantom pain made the limb “seem more there than it ever was.” From that seed, I went on to write the title story of my first book, Cut Through the Bone. Surgery that uncovered a dog’s hair deep inside the meat of my cousin’s ankle ignited another story, as did a neighbor’s vignette about how beekeeping brought him and his teenage son closer together.
For my first novel, The Weight of Him, the startling moment was a snatch of conversation I overheard in a pub in Ireland—the grief might just kill her before the weight does. I couldn’t get those words out of my mind. What if, I wondered, grief or weight don’t kill this stranger, but instead drive her to do something remarkable. As with my other stories, once I fix on the startling spark the main character appears almost instantly. Immediately, I had a vivid picture in my mind of an anguished Irish man: Big Billy Brennan.
Why do certain moments startle me into storytelling, and countless others don’t? I suppose the moments that inspire me are those that most appeal to my imagination, my hopes and dreams, my fear and anger. I think that’s true of all artists: We create from that which pulls at us. The Weight of Him was very much inspired by, and centers on, the things that lift me and the things that drag me down.
About the author:
Ethel Rohan is the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, World Literature Today, GUERNICA Magazine, Tin House Online,The Rumpus, and many more. Born and raised in Ireland, she lives in San Francisco.
Praise for THE WEIGHT OF HIM:
“Rohan [is] one of those rare, courageous writers who dare to take on the ‘ordinary’ and show just how extraordinary it really is.” —John Banville, Man Booker prize-winning author of The Sea
“Poignant and inspiring…When you’re finished, you’ll want to go for a long, grateful walk.” —Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child
“Involving, terrifying and ultimately quite beautiful.” —Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me
- Title: The Weight of Him
- Author: Ethel Rohan
- Pages: 336
- Genre: Fiction
- Published: February 2017 – St. Martin’s Press
- Source: Publisher
Description: At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan can always count on food. From his earliest memories, he has loved food’s colors, textures and tastes. The way flavors go off in his mouth. How food keeps his mind still and his bad feelings quiet. Food has always made everything better, until the day Billy’s beloved son Michael takes his own life.
Billy determines to make a difference in Michael’s memory and undertakes a public weight-loss campaign, to raise money for suicide prevention—his first step in an ambitious plan to save himself, and to save others. However, Billy’s dramatic crusade appalls his family, who want to simply try to go on.
Despite his crushing detractors, Billy gains welcome allies: his community-at-large; a co-worker who lost his father to suicide; a filmmaker with his own dubious agenda; and a secret, miniature kingdom that Billy populates with the sub-quality dolls and soldiers he rescues from disposal at the local toy factory where he works. But it is only if Billy can confront the truth of his pain, suffering, and the brokenness around him, that he and others will be able to realize the full rescue and change they need.
Set in rural, contemporary Ireland, Ethel Rohan’s The Weight of Him is an unforgettable, big-hearted novel about loss and reliance that moves from tragedy to recrimination to what can be achieved when we take the stand of our lives. (publisher)
My take: Billy Brennan is everyman. He may not feel that way though. For most of his life he’s hidden behind his weight hoping to avoid notice, to blend in. People just saw Big Billy – they didn’t look past his bulk. He grew up knowing he was a disappointment to the people who should have been most proud of him. He found acceptance and solace in food. Sure he found reasons to lose weight in the past but it always came back. After the suicide of his first-born son Billy needs to find a reason to go on. And he needs to find the reason his son took his own life.
I was impressed with how Ethel Rohan portrayed the grieving family. Each one moved through phases at their own pace and experienced guilt, blame, anger and utter sadness. Billy was easy to cheer on as his journey gathered steam. At the same time, his family’s reactions were completely understandable. They had no idea how Billy’s changes would impact their lives. I just wanted to hug them all and let them know things would eventually get better. The Weight of Him is a novel that ultimately left me feeling hopeful. It’s an emotional read and one I can recommend.