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Review by Tobias Carroll

Tongue Party
by Sarah Rose Etter
Caketrain; 90 p.

Tongue Party opens and closes with scenarios that might seem familiar to a reader of contemorary fiction: a family vacationing on a beach and an intimate note of matrimonial sacrifice. Expectations are upended at every turn, however: in the eight stories contained in this chapbook, Sarah Rose Etter explores and dissects familial relationships. More specicially, she reassembles them in configurations that are at times horrific yet emotionally recognizable. Many of the stories begin along familiar lines and slowly ebb into something surreal or even horrific — figuratively or literally.

Some of what unsettles about these stories are literally chilling: the sight of rotting bodies,  the despair and ramifications ensuing from a loss of control. Some of the horror is ultimately rooted in compulsion: the mask worn by a grief-stricken man in “Chicken Father;” the raging hunger experienced by a suburban husband (and the effect it has on his wife, from whose perspective the story is told) in “Husband Feeder.” The endings here are sharp, and Etter effectively evokes some previously-unknown underlying truth to the world, a secret everyone else is privy to.

There’s a visceral quality to these stories that sometimes calls to mind the work of Brian Evenson. Etter’s plainspoken prose makes the horrors that unfold much subtler, and some of the images that arise from these stories — the climax of “Koala Tide,” for one — are searing. Ultimately, Etter makes this territory her own: consider the charge of the title story or the surreal seductions of “Men Under Glass.” In both, Etter’s work evolves in unexpected ways, triggering a host of contradictory sensations, and boldly establishing her voice.

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