This Is Only a Test

9780253018175: Paperback
Release Date: 1st February 2016

Dimensions: 127 x 203

Number of Pages: 180

Indiana University Press

This Is Only a Test

Paperback / £13.99

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.


I. Dizzied
Goodbye, Tuscaloosa
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

II. Drowned
The Girl in the Surf
Dispatches from the Drownings
The Changing
Death by Refrigerator

III. Dropped
Fabricating Fear
Fort Wayne Is Still Seventh on Hitler's List
The Year of the Great Forgetting
Punch Line
Bedtime Story

Works Consulted
Book Club Guide

B. J. Hollars is author of two award-winning nonfiction books, Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America and Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa, as well as Sightings (IUP, 2013) and Dispatches from the Drownings: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction. He is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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.

Jill Talbot
author of The Way We Weren't: A Memoir

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.

Brian Oliu
author of Leave Luck to Heaven

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.

Bryan Furuness
author of Winesburg, Indiana

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.

Steven Church
author of Ultrasonic: Essays

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.

John Hildebrand
author of The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac

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.

W. Scott Olsen
Editor, ASCENT magazine

Throughout, Hollars underlines his fears for both himself and his family. His grave discussion emphasizes the helplessness we feel when faced with forces of nature beyond human control and the fear we experience when confronted with humans who cause mass destruction. The thread that binds these essays on death and mayhem is the author's love for his children and wife, which offers readers a respite from the inherent grief and devastation he poetically describes.

Kirkus Reviews

In a series of short, entertaining essays, Hollars meditates on natural disaster and fatherhood. He tells of disasters he has been a party to . . . while cleverly relating them to his experience of fatherhood. The point being, it seems, that becoming a father is its own kind of natural disaster, but with more positive results. . . . A great collection to dip into or read sequentially, this book is surprisingly sunny, given its subject matter.

Library Journal

While This Is Only a Test mixes memoir, storytelling and research in a way that can be labeled creative nonfiction, Hollars writes in an accessible, personable voice. A high school student could read this book, and appreciate much of it.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel