Review 1: Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party

With Emprise Review shutting its electronic doors, I decided to post the reviews I wrote for that publication.  There really isn’t much point to it– all the books have been out for a while and are doing quite well– but some part of me wanted these to exist, madly clutching their 1s and 0s.

So here we go!

Down the Rabbit Hole:

A Review of Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party

When I first received Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party in the mail, I knew nothing about it other than it had won the 2010 Caketrain chapbook competition.  In hindsight, I’m extremely glad I knew nothing about this collection, because watching each beautiful, terrifying, utterly bizarre story unfold is part of what makes reading this cohesive collection so enjoyable.

Reading each story is a delightful trip down the rabbit hole.  Many of the female protagonists live in worlds ruled by the dizzying logic of nightmares, struggling against situations beyond their control.  In the title story, the protagonist must attend the tongue party, because, well, she must.  While later we learn more about the relationship between the narrator and her father (one of several characters who abuses a position of authority and trust), the narrator never stands up and says, “No, I will not attend the tongue party.”  The tongue party is as central to her reality as going to the DMV is in ours, and through it, we are able to experience the rawness of her fear and her desire for love.  In fact, at no point does any character question the reality they find themselves in; like dreams, we don’t realize something is amiss while the dream is happening.  And because Etter builds each world with such detailed, logical precision, we as readers don’t question what is happening either.

But each story is more than just a central conceit taken to its logical conclusion.  All of the stories examine those base, fundamental desires that drive us—lust, hunger, despair, addiction.  In “Koala Tide,” the first story that sets the tone of the entire collection, a young girl is waiting for the koala tide: “I knew once the koalas came, things would be different.”  Etter skillfully evokes the certainty inherent in childhood that things will be better tomorrow only to crush the young narrator (and the reader) with the knowledge that grown-ups are often disappointing assholes and adulthood can be a terrifying reality.  In “Husband Feeder,” a husband’s appetite rages out of control, and he eats everything in the house, until the wife performs the ultimate sacrifice to satiate his hunger.  While some of the endings are not terribly surprising (the previously mentioned story’s ending was apparent by the second page), the joy of reading these stories comes from the total and complete immersion into each world coupled with Etter’s controlled, restrained style.  Most of the sentences are deceptively simple, well-constructed gems that allow the central emotional core of the story to emerge, raw and wet.

By the time I finished the slim, 79 page volume, I wanted more.  My only consolation is the knowledge that this will not be the last collection from the extremely talented Etter.