You’re a woman, 140lbs, and a longtime resident of San Francisco. Why’d you write your first novel, THE WEIGHT OF HIM, about a 400lb Irish man?
I was born and raised in Ireland and the seed for this novel was planted during a return visit there, in a bar. It seemed only fitting to set the book in its (and my) place of origin.
The seed was a conversation I overheard about a fat woman, dire ruminations over whether her weight or her grief would kill her first. As though fat is always unhealthy. As though grief can’t be survived. As though we can be killed more than once.
That night in bed, my head was wrecked with those three ‘as thoughs’—and many more besides. So much so, I had to get up in the deep dark and start to write it all out of me. From the outset, it was a 400lb man, and not the woman in the bar, who seized my imagination—which is surprising because I love to champion women in real life and in all things literary, so why wouldn’t I put a woman at the center of my novel?
Looking back, I realize I avoided making the story about a woman because I didn’t want to wind up writing about my own fat mother who was killed more than once (blindness, psychosis, Alzheimer’s, pneumonia). I wanted to write from a blank slate. And once that 400lb man arrived in my imagination, broken and needing to be put back together, I couldn’t forsake him.
Whoa, heavy stuff (forgive the pun). But word is this book is uplifting, and even sorta humorous in spots? Word is, too, that you can be hella funny IRL? So what’s with all the weighty stuff? (I’m not even going to pretend to apologize for that.)
I am mostly a fun and uplifting person. So, yeah, I hope at least some of the former and more of the latter shine though the pages of my first novel. But I’m living no light life and this is no light book (enough with the puns, both of us).
I’m in a constant on-again off-again struggle with the dark and have had way too many bouts with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Less and less so over the years, thankfully. But it’s all still there, nipping at me. Hence the heavy stuff.
Meryl Streep just lit up the Internet with her Golden Globes speech. I’m stealing (and butchering) her closing line: I take my broken [parts] and make [them] into art.
About those broken parts: you have a fixation with the body in your writing, and the damaged body in particular. You want to explain? Or maybe we don’t want to know?
Well which is it? Do you want to know or not?
[Rushes hands to face and peeks between forked fingers]. Okay fine, tell us.
[Eases interviewer’s hands from face.] Silly.
When I was a girl, during the worst of my mother’s psychosis, she beat me. As a girl, I was also molested many times by a family friend. I grew to hate myself, and my body. We were both bad. Damaged.
My body and my self suffered a devastating fracture. For over two decades, I lived an almost out-of-body experience where I disconnected from my physical self and from the girl I was. My ongoing journey to recovery involves getting my body and my selves to reunite—healed, complete, in harmony.
So, yeah, I’m preoccupied with broken bodies, and broken minds. Broken everything, actually. Bite me.
[Don’t you dare.]
If it doesn’t seem too crass a segue, let’s shift to a tiny golden body. Is it true you believe you’re going to someday win an Oscar for a Best Original Screenplay?
[Coughs] Okay: brevity, balls, I love it.
‘Balls’ is so patriarchic. We need to coin a phrase for female badassery.
Maybe clit. Like, Nice! You’ve got clit. Or Whoa! That takes some clit! You get me?
Oh, I get you.
Okay next? Or are we done?
I’m asking the questions, remember? Let’s segue from the gold-plated brass Oscars to the brass boots on your book cover. What’s with that?
The Oscars used to be gold-plated brass but now they’re like a pewter alloy—
This is an interview, not trivia night.
Sorry. The boots represent a bronze sculpture in the story (please read the book for full details), but more than that they represent 400lb Billy Brennan’s great stand in life: Becoming a savior.
[Long pause.] Want to tell us a bit more about Billy becoming a savior?
See my reference above to reading the book.
Okay then. What about you? Have you taken a great stand in life?
I’d like to think I’ve got bigger, greater stands still ahead of me. For now, I’d say the greatest stand I’ve taken thus far was just putting my two feet on the ground and walking into each torturous day of a suicidal depression, clawing at surviving it—even as survival seemed insufferable.
Wow. What can I say? I think that’s the note to end on.
Say I’ve got clit.
You’re got clit!
ETHEL ROHAN is the author of The Weight of Him, a debut novel from St. Martin’s Press. The Weight of Him won the inaugural Plumeri Fellowship. She is also 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. An award-winning short story writer, her work has appeared in The New York Times, World Literature Today, Tin House Online, GUERNICA Magazine, Joyland Magazine, and many others.