Book Review: In the Event of Contact

“In the Event of Contact chronicles characters profoundly affected by physical connection, or its lack.”

In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan is a contemporary short story collection that traverses the complexities of human contact (both the existence and absence) through the lens of Irish and American characters, each story a unique stone that builds a foundation of complex experiences that are both familiar and idiosyncratic. It’s an intense journey that takes us not very far from home, but travels into the depths of our reactions and intentions.

Audience

Rohan tackles some tough subjects in this anthology (see Trigger Warnings below for a full list if you have concerns before reading.) Stories like Everywhere She Went and Blue Hot pick at the scabs of some hot-button issues. Because of this, I recognize this anthology can be triggering for some people, or unpalatable for others. Despite this, I do think Rohan handles the trauma by carefully extruding the emotion at the core, not glorifying the drama and tiptoeing away from being crass or cruel in its expression.

To take it a step further, a lot of the issues she focuses on are things that should be addressed in healthy, manageable ways to draw attention to their formation and effect on people. With the exception of when it’s triggering or when we’re not mentally in a healthy space to approach it, these are subjects and themes that we can’t ignore; they’re part of all our lives or the lives of those around us. It’s a tough read in places, but I think there’s value in books like In The Event of Contact because it forces us to look in the mirror to the parts of us we don’t like to see.

I will reiterate: If you’re not in a good place mentally, set it aside for a day you’re able to tackle it with a sturdy stance. But It’s well worth the read, especially for fans of contemporary or realist fiction. I devoured it myself, with some of the stories hitting quite close to home, leaving me thinking on my own life and about the struggles people I know have gone through as well.

What I Liked

I’ll admit when I first started reading, I kept waiting for something big and glorious to appear—but nothing did. When I got to the end of the first story, I went back and looked it over, and realized all the points I’d missed, because I was so focused on large reveals that I was missing the quiet moments. And doesn’t that mirror so much of our everyday lives? We often spend so much time waiting for the jaw-dropping reveals that we miss the hints and ripples that say so much more. Reading this was an exercise in awareness and nuance for me, as someone who isn’t very much into contemporary or literary fiction.

That brings me to the aspect I appreciated most about this collection. As a writer, I admire authors that can wield techniques in fiction that I’m not as fluent in achieving myself. The subtlety and nuance that Rohan creates in her stories, saying so much with so deft a palette, is beyond my capabilities. It’s like watching an impressionist artist at work; each colorful, bold stroke of paint on its own a beautiful but innocuous mark, but together an organic, flowing portrait that creates a whole that is both raw and unmistakable. She takes a story with so much emotion and texture, and turns it at just the right angle to leave us guessing except for the moments where the jigsaw pieces fit just right, and we’re hit with the enormity of it.

Some of my favorite stories include the slow-building and quietly powerful At The Side of the Road and the cleansing, introspective Any Wonder Left. Naturally the ones that spoke to me were the ones that dealt with issues that hit close to home, and I think that will most likely be the case for the majority of readers. On the other hand, the intense Everywhere She Went gave me a different perspective on the struggle of people I know that I hadn’t been able to understand before, which I’m grateful to Rohan for. That brings to light the power of stories like these: to bring to light experiences outside our own.

Trigger Warnings:

Abortion, Homophobia (brief mention), Death, Graphic Violence, Domestic Violence, Sex, Hallucinations

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