Title: The Weight of Him
Author: Ethel Ronan
Publisher: St Martins's Press
In The Weight of Him, a richly textured, intelligent and emotionally involving novel, Ethel Rohan explores the devastation as well as the turbulence of emotions experienced by parents who have lost a child that has taken his life. What really emerges is Rohan's adept portrayal of intense pain and anguish that are brilliantly characterized in a journey that exacts a huge toll.
The yarn unfolds in rural Ireland where we meet the principal character, Billy Brennan, who is the father of seventeen year old Michael who has just been lost to suicide. We immediately become cognizant of the excruciating feelings of Billy and the guilt that comes from the belief that he could have, or should have, prevented the death from happening. Unanswered questions consume him as to why Michael had taken his own life and how could he have done that to himself, and to those he left behind. Yet, as Billy and his wife Tricia examine everything for clues, they conclude that nothing stood out. Sure, Michael may have been sensitive at times as well as troubled by various fears such as exams, being in the dark, of water, of bridges, but was there anything to suggest any deadly extent to his anxieties?
In addition to this tragic event affecting the lives of the Brennan family, we learn that Billy weighs over four hundred pounds and has been informed by his doctor that he is “morbidly obese and on a very slippery slope.” If he doesn't do something about his weight “he is going to put his family through another premature funeral.” Billy is now resolved that although he could not save his son, at least he could prevent killing himself and thus he was going to lose weight, once and for all. His plan, which will honor the death of his son, is to undertake a public weight-loss awareness campaign that will raise money from every pound he loses and thus help save lives. It will be, as the posters he creates, a March Against Suicide. To Billy's dismay not all are in favour of his undertaking including his parents who don't want to bring attention to the suicide of their grandson as well as Billy's obesity. There is however support from several individuals that can relate to Billy's tragedy from their own personal experiences.
Rohan's prose is unrelenting and precise as we follow Billy trying to keep his life as well as his family's from spinning out of control as a result of the enormous impact of the tragedy. Some of the themes examined include the delicate family dynamics that swirls around the tragedy including Billy's wife who is involved with her own feelings and hopelessness as she disengages from him. And then there is Billy's obsession and commitment to carry on his plan to lose weight and overcome his addiction to food-a journey that will present many challenges.
This wrenching debut novel
has all the finish and polish expected from an author of much more
experience and larger accomplishments. It is one that will surely
force readers to confront it as they grapple over the various
messages touched upon by Rohan as one excellently executed scene