In her debut novel, The Book of X, Sarah Rose Etter has demonstrated how to push fiction to its bounds, break through, and create a wonderful, eccentric blend of storytelling, surrealism, insight into the female experience, and visceral portrayals of humanity—the loneliness, pain, and longing that come with it. Reminiscent of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, Etter is a 21st-century version of these fearless female writers, unafraid of playing with absurd metaphors and expansive imagination.
Etter’s shrewdness regarding female suffering, being different, and societal expectations of normality are what makes this narrative so powerful. She manages to do this by employing storytelling that is simultaneously real: family drama, obsession with weight, your first intense female friendship, the boy who treats you horribly but you love nonetheless...and the unreal: rivers of thighs, harvesting meat from the land, fields of throats. Etter works with all this imagery while still being economical with her words; always something I admire in writing: the ability to paint a sublime picture with language that isn’t flowery or too heavy.
The novel follows Cassie, a girl born with her stomach tied in a knot, as she navigates her life as someone who is always inherently different from everyone else. Cassie’s knot was a brilliant use of metaphor because we all have a knot; something about ourselves we wish to untangle from and get rid of forever. I viewed the Meat Quarry, with its literal walls of meat waiting to be harvested, as another use of smart metaphor, this time about female hunger. Not literal hunger for food, but hunger for more; more opportunity, more options, more love, more success. Just as the Meat Quarry is kept lock and key from Cassie’s desire to work in it as her father and brother do, that familiar female sentiment of wanting more for ourselves can feel locked away over walls too high to climb, gates that won’t budge no matter how hard we pound our fists.
The novel is also given an element of fever dreaminess by the switch from the present day narrative of Cassie’s life to visions of a world that Cassie aches for so desperately. These visions will likely feel palpable to women whilst reading, because humans are often insatiable creatures; we have our own private visions of what we long for, what we hoped life would be, the body we wish we had, how we imagine our love life would play out if our hair was a little bit thicker or our legs a little bit longer. Etter prudently touches on these painful and authentic experiences that so often characterize a woman’s life.
A couple of nights after finishing The Book of X, I sat on my outdoor deck with my family, preparing for a cookout. As my stepfather made his way to the grill, I found myself staring off into the stack of raw steaks on the plate in his hands. I had the Meat Quarry on my brain; the walls of bleeding rawness with its marbled veins of fat came alive in my thoughts once again. This book has worked its way into my head and tied its own knot up there inside my psyche. Already one of my favorite books of 2019, I am looking forward to my fellow readers getting to experience its magic for the first time. I’m also excited that we have such an innovative new voice on the literary scene in Sarah Rose Etter.
Enjoy The Book of X in all it’s raw, meaty, spellbinding glory.
The Book of X
By Sarah Rose Etter
284 pages. 2019
About Cassie Longo
Hailing from Chicago, Cassie is a creative consultant and fashion boutique co-owner. She studied politics and communications at the University of Kansas. Literature is her one true love, but she’s known to put pen to paper from time to time and was an avid writer in her journals growing up.
Championing creativity in all its various forms, you can often find Cassie making collages, watching live music, scribbling in notebooks, or making jewelry.
Cassie is currently working on her next creative project, that is a secret for now, but she’s happy to say it will combine art, writing, literature, fashion, music and e-commerce all together. You can find her on Instagram: @book__gal