It’s no surprise that Philadelphia writer Sarah Rose Etter won Caketrain Journal’s 2010 chapbook competition for her collection of short stories, Tongue Party. Though the volume feels thin in your hand, don’t let this fool you; the collection is packed full of gorgeous, jarring stories.
Many of the pieces are narrated by Cassie, the literary love child of Kelly Link and a post-modern Laura Palmer. Cassie’s fraught relationships with the men in her life – her father, her lovers, her husband – give the collection its central theme. Most of the men suffer some form of neurosis: an unspeakable fetish, a massive case of pica. In her attempts to care for them, Cassie becomes a woman who gives everything, until the madness of her emptiness becomes a mantra – "I am a wife, I chanted, I am a wife until the knife went dull, subsided." Cassie is willing to endure unto the bitter end, to find herself on the receiving end of a Tongue Party gone wrong. Cassie is both strong and weak. Other women appear infrequently; mothers figure only by their absence, either emotional or physical.
Though Cassie has little left to celebrate, readers have plenty to delight over. Etter’s writing is taut, often poetic in its examination of the depths into which devotion might plunge us. One story, "Cures," describes a nine-step process to grieve the passing of a loved one. Number six advises, "Place it in a purse or satchel. At social events, unlock the clasps. Speak only of ache. Put it on a silver platter. Pass it around on a tray of quiches. Let it enter the mouths and minds of everyone in party clothes. Ruin the best things."
Thankfully, Ms. Etter has saved the best things for us to read. Her images are gristly, half-disturbing reminders that stick with you long after the delicious meal is over. Her stories throb with an energy that might keep you up at night.