Sarah Rose Etter is a literary vigil. As the honest, fervid eye protruding from the unspoken moments of life, she watches us humans play our game. As eye, she reminds us that there is a loveliness in darkness—that there is so much more than sugar in a bite of cake. Her sentences foment a story we have not heard, yet she paints her readers colors of dream-like familiarity. Etter scoops us up into brilliant anomalies, and once inside, the reader adjusts without question—accepts and embraces Etter’s imagery as normalcy. It’s when we near the end of each story—those few pages that gradually fill mystery’s lacunae—that’s when we wake up and realize we’re inside Tongue Party. Each enigma entices and builds with tension. Its growth? Well-paced with convincing dialogue. We feel nervous. We feel as if we’re dissolving right along with her often distraught characters. We know we’re either watching or being watched:
“I watch and love the very small things: motions, flicking hair from their eyes, stretching, pressing fingers to the glass, looking in vain for weak spots, their Adam’s apples pulsing, the stubble on their cheeks growing into full beards, the shapes in which they sleep.”
It’s refreshingly haunting to be pulled in so closely to characters within a work of fiction. Etter’s stories are populated by men that often function as vacuum—by women that resist and combat vacuum. The book’s tragic moments are some of its most powerful. Works like “Womb Peck” and “Tongue Party” appear to criticize the objectification of women—the problematic relationship—the disturbing nature of patriarchy. Passages like, “When you get there, after you swallow, your womb will be clean, coated in white paper, endlessly flawless,” have not left my head. “Cake” was particularly unforgettable:
“The sugar creeps into my blood stream, soaks into my tissue.
‘Another,’ he says, nodding at the cake, his hand squeezing above my knee.
I dig the fork back into the cake and a sense of dread rises up inside of me. I cannot guess how many bites I have left.”
Tongue Party is not wholly optimistic, but wildly important and poetic fiction. Its paragraphs are rich with humor and shadows—she comforts us; she terrifies. Sarah Rose Etter is not here to watch passively—she is here to throw us her guts which are rich in sincerity.