These stories chronicle characters profoundly affected by physical connection, or its lack. Among them, a scrappy teen vies to be the next Sherlock Holmes; an immigrant daughter must defend her decision to remain childless; a guilt-ridden woman is haunted by the disappearance of her childhood friend; a cantankerous crossing guard celebrates getting run over by a truck; an embattled priest with dementia determines to perform a heroic, redemptive act, if he can only remember how; and a young girl navigates crippling aversion to touch, even from her sisters.
These stories are a collection of curiosities strung together thematically into a necklace of human want—the ache for physical intimacy in its many forms ... Rohan has mentioned that this collection was years in the making, which points to an incredible, ironic serendipity—that this multifaceted exploration of human connection should finally arrive during The Year of No Contact ... Rohan’s prose is easy and conversational, but not mundane; there is a simple and understated beauty in the way the author captures everyday moments in unusual ways ... an undertone of deep appreciation rides beneath and ultimately outlasts the ache in her stories. What lingers in the reader is a feeling of warmth, or of home: hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea, feet resting on the hearth ... She counts herself among the excellent women writers who continue to unflinchingly explore the realm of the body, and through this lens, infuse the short story form with a pervasive loneliness and ambient anxiety that mirror the uneasiness of our times: authors like Carmen Maria Machado, Roxane Gay, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sarah Rose Etter, Amber Sparks, and Sara Lippmann. Add Ethel Rohan’s name to that list.
... [the characters] continue to grope for connection through the fog as well, even as intimacy eludes them. A familiar feeling to many of us, perhaps, after this past year, when our collective suffering either turned us inward or had us typing furiously and shouting at screens. It’s a pleasure, then, to see these characters flicker with flinty humor or gestures of resilience — savoring a perfect strawberry, or learning to fly an airplane, or refusing to carry an entire nation’s shame about remaining child-free ... admirable.
Rohan’s characters negotiate treacherous emotional distances in poignant ways ... Rohan’s plain prose helps to feature the emotional earthquakes these characters undergo while they’re navigating ordinary happenings, and her masterful use of Irish lilts and rhythms helps to reveal intricate emotional distances between those who left and those who stayed behind, even as it nestles the reader deep into her characters’ hearts and minds.