On April 27, 2011, just days after learning of their pregnancy, B. J. Hollars, his wife, and their future son endured the onslaught of an EF-4 tornado. There, while huddled in a bathtub in their Alabama home, mortality flashed before their eyes. With the last of his computer battery, Hollars began recounting the experience, and would continue to do so in the following years, writing his way out of one disaster only to find himself caught up in another. Tornadoes, drownings, and nuclear catastrophes force him to acknowledge the inexplicable, while he attempts to overcome his greatest fear—the impossibility of protecting his newborn son from the world’s cruelties. Hollars creates a constellation of grief, tapping into the rarely acknowledged intersection between fatherhood and fear, sacrifice and safety, and the humbling effect of losing control of our lives.
|This Is Only a Test exposes our fears—real and fake, invented and imbedded—of disasters. Through Hollars’s own experiences, research, and rememberings, he examines how our fears are often unfounded or inflated, even created. B. J. Hollars is in a field all of his own.Through spare, haunting, and heart-wrenching prose, Hollars deftly guides the reader from the tornado-torn streets of Tuscaloosa to the lakes and rivers of Wisconsin, from his backyard to nuclear Japan, and ultimately into those tiny intimate moments of fear that shape a new father’s consciousness. Combining a novelist’s ear for dialogue and drama with a poet’s eye for detail, Hollars's essays delve into the hard spaces, mapping out a place for hope, or at least some small moments of happiness.In the face of disaster, of childbirth, of fatherhood, Hollars finds the perfect middle-ground in the strange void between loss and gain: that the center, despite what the numbers tell you, isn't zero, but something greater than that--a souvenir to say that we are here and we are answering impossible questions the best and only way that we know how.This Is Only a Test is an immediate read. I don’t only mean you should read it immediately, though I do mean that deeply. I mean the act of reading this wonderful new collection is close, personal and compelling. The book is nearly alive in your hands as each story, and then each implication, each idea unfolds. In one section, a tornado falls from the sky and the family—husband, wife, dog and unborn child—seek shelter in a bathroom tub. But what do you say, think, wonder about and do when the event is over? What do you tell your future child? How do you talk to anyone else? Whether it’s storms, or drowning, lake monsters, incendiary bombs or a child’s fever, these events, present and historical and intimate, seep into every later moment. This is an elegantly written book about how we love each other in a terrifying world. There's plenty of room aboard the Hollars bandwagon and here's your chance to experience what his growing audience already knows and loves—his warm intelligence, his companionable voice, and the how-does-he-do-it trick of spinning terror into tenderness.In these quirky, inventive stories, B.J. Hollars depicts a world both dangerous and unreasonable, a place where the local TV meteorologist assumes the quality of a god. Character may not be fate in This Is Only A Test but the reverse is always true—we reveal ourselves by our response to the random cruelties of the universe, from errant meteor strikes to a small child’s fever rising in the night.
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Table of Contents
A Test of the Emergency Alert System
Epistle to an Embryo
To the Good People of Joplin
Fifty Ways of Looking at Tornadoes
The Longest Wait
The Girl in the Surf
Dispatches from the Drownings
Death by Refrigerator
Fort Wayne Is Still Seventh on Hitler's List
The Year of the Great Forgetting
Book Club Guide