Weighing in at just under 80 pages, Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party is nothing short of amazing. Focusing mainly on the theme of hunger, this debut collection showcases the talents of an author whose imagination is matched only by her economy and precision with language. Take, for example, the opening story in the collection: with a few deft strokes, Etter carries her reader from the ingenious if seemingly outlandish premise of a beach awash in koala bears to an all-too-human (and thus oh-so-painful) portrait of the alienation and disappointment inherent in all great coming of age stories; think, if you will, of a bizarro version of James Joyce’s “Araby” (substituting koalas for sexual yearning — work with me on this one) and you’ll be well on your way to picking up the vibe of “Koala Tide.”
Elsewhere in the collection, Etter offers us “Cake,” in which a wife lies beholden to her husband’s desire to watch her gorge on baked goods. Reversing the scenario in “The Husband Feeder,” the author depicts a man whose insatiable appetite leads him on a gustatory rampage that his wife can only grin and bear in the name of love. And in perhaps the most delectable of Etter’s tales, a grown man dons a chicken mask in an effort to deal with his wife’s passing — much to his daughter’s chagrin.
Needless to say, while hunger is at the heart of Etter’s strange yet captivating tales, the insatiable appetites of her characters speak volumes to the myriad conflicting and often unrequited desires that drive us all. We want love, we want sex, we want so badly to please, the stories collected in Tongue Party seem to say, but no matter how close we come to satiating our demons, something about the human condition always leaves us wanting more. Indeed, like the protagonists in the majority of Etter’s stories, I, too, was left with a desire for more — more quirky characters, more weird scenarios, more of the author’s spectacular, delicious writing. Truly a wonderful debut.
-Review by Marc Schuster