Book Review: The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter | More2Read
 

The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter


A surreal exploration of one woman’s life and death against a landscape of meat, office desks, and bad men.

The Book of X tells the tale of Cassie, a girl born with her stomach twisted in the shape of a knot. From childhood with her parents on the family meat farm, to a desk job in the city, to finally experiencing love, she grapples with her body, men, and society, all the while imagining a softer world than the one she is in. Twining the drama of the everyday – school-age crushes, paying bills, the sickness of parents – with the surreal – rivers of thighs, men for sale, and fields of throats – Cassie’s realities alternate to create a blurred, fantastic world of haunting beauty.

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Praise for Book Of X:

“A haunting meditation on loneliness, loss, and meat, The Book of X is a manual for how to survive in a world that almost offhandedly wants to destroy you. In it the echoes of reality come out deeply weird — but somehow reveal more about the real by being so. A wonderfully strange and personal novel, in which nightmares and daydreams cross-contaminate.”
—Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain, A Collapse of Horses, and The Warren 

“Sarah Rose Etter’s The Book of X is dizzying and grotesque?and I say that with the utmost love. It’s an astute exploration of humanity and the body?specifically the female body?through the lens of young Cassie… Etter has built an eerie, surreal world… and she seduces you into it with dreamy lyricism. You won’t want to leave.”
-Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed News, ’29 Summer Books To Get Excited About’

“In the utterly unique and remarkable The Book of X, Sarah Rose Etter takes the surreal and expertly shapes it into a portrait that is as beautiful and compelling as it is horrifying and unbearable… Etter brilliantly, viciously lays bare what it means to be a woman in the world, what it means to hurt, to need, to want, so much it consumes everything.”
-Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

“I loved every page of this gorgeous, grotesque, heartbreaking novel.”
-Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties

“Penned in succinct, poetic prose, Etter’s surreal debut is exactly as grotesque and horrifying as young adulthood.”
-Courtney Eathorne, Booklist

“With poetic prose and haunting honesty, The Book of X cuts clean to the tangled heart of femininity, unwinding one woman’s story to reflect a familiar self.”
-Danielle Ballantyne, Foreword Reviews

“A relentlessly original look at what it means to exist in a female body.”
-Kirkus Reviews

“Etter’s ultrastylized and surreal debut casts a reflection that, like a carnival mirror, points aptly… at humanity’s defects. Etter’s coming-of-age story builds intrigue as it morphs into a portrait of a young woman adrift.”
-Publisher’s Weekly

“Insightful and incisive, this book cuts deep into the failing heart of the feminine mystique. Etter is a surgeon.”
-Amelia Gray, author of Isadora and Gutshot

“The Book of X traverses the mundane and the surreal?from grocery lists to blooming meat, menstrual blood to a jealousy removal shop?laying bare the absurdities of womanhood. A truly original writer, Etter continues to push the boundaries of her imagination…and ours.”
-Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces

“Taut, macabre, with wounds electric, The Book of X will take your head off while staring dead-on into your eyes. Move over, Angela Carter, there’s a new boss in the Meat Quarry, and she is fearless, relentless, ready to feast.”
-Blake Butler, author of There Is No Year and 300,000,000

“Sarah Rose Etter is a visionary. Perfectly paced, structurally audacious, and endlessly inventive?The Book of X is our new Revelation. Actually it’s better than that. Etter’s prose digs with emotion and a thousand unforgettable images. They just twist themselves deeper and deeper into your guts. It’ll probably take years to cut them out.”
-Scott McCLanahan, author of The Sarah Book and Crapalachia


Review:

Step into the extraordinary life of Cassie living with a knot with a hypnotic first person narration, one venturing into surrealism, haunting visions, a coming of age tale to womanhood, her home the Acres, at school, the meat quarry, the country to the big city, with the complexities with kin and friends, pursuing a kind of happiness and self discovery, a cycling life, harvesting and learning of many things, not keeping away away from the rocking horse, rock diet or meat quarry, lemons, a boy, men, and a friend called Sophia, moving through the many aspects of love and finding it, many forms of relationships and love, mostly unrequited, meetings of bodies attracting or repelling.

Recalled the use of language with things used in the novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, “I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth,” and “My mother is a fish.”

Unconventional lives we live, dreams askew, ambitions, Kin, friends, an intimate portrait living with a knot, words and objects, senses, visions, emotions and complexities, pain and trauma, beauty lay waiting in the narrative walking with an outsider and outlier.

Pastoral and personal ballad, a poetic and visionary work, words, metaphors, surreal and real, a human pain and joy continuous within a greatly crafted debut that make you feel maybe human, a potent continued dream evoked within the reader.

Another read to make my best books of 2019 list coming soon.

This was recommended to me by the author Brian Evenson in my interview with him this year (Read More).


Excerpts:

“LOOK AT HER! LOOK AT THE FREAK!”
Their bodies are lanky, pimpled, letting off new odors. Their voices echo off the metal lockers. Their eyes are all on me: blue, brown, green, gray, each eye making my flesh shiver, everyone an enemy.
“YEAH, LOOK AT ME!” I yell back.

“I feel so sad some days,” I whisper.
Pain has been welling up inside of me: My knot makes me other.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
I run a hand over my stomach. I feel as if I am from another planet.

“LET ME TELL YOU HOW THE CITY FEELS to me: It is an orchestra of rusting metal, heaving trucks and sharp silver buildings, full of bodies, faces, color, electricity.
On the small squares of grass, there are small piles of dog shit. In each concrete corner, there is a small pool of urine. On the walls, there are electric scrawls of graffiti in a language I do not know.
At night, the skyline shoots out pinpricks of light and I am in awe. In the morning, I get trash caught on my ankles, greased Styrofoam making its sound against my skin. Even that is beautiful.”

“IN THE GROCERY STORE, THE LIGHTS ARE dazzling, the heads of the vegetables wanting for eyes. I move among the foods like a gone woman, hypnotized. I pile the cart high and trance my way to the meat counter.”

“EACH NIGHT AT HOME, I WASH OFF THE mask. Then, I place the false heart in a small black box on the dresser.”



Sarah Rose Etter is the author of The Book of X (Two Dollar Radio, 2019) and Tongue Party (Caketrain Press, 2011). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cut, Electric Literature, VICE, Guernica, Philadelphia Weekly, and more. She is the recipient of writing residencies at the Disquiet International Program in Portugal, and the Gullkistan Creative Program in Iceland. She earned her MFA from Rosemont College. She lives in San Francisco. You can find out more at sarahroseetter.com


 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 19 July 2019