small presses

Tongue Party

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

Why I Love Small Presses

Just a quick note on one of the many reasons why I love small presses.

A few days ago, my friend and publisher Martin Shepard of the Permanent Press sent me a few books he thought I might like. One of them was a novel that was published in 2007 and sold about 400 copies. A subsequent novel by the same author, Marty explained, only sold 140 copies. Yet Marty and his wife, Judith, decided to go ahead and publish a third novel by the same author. In Marty’s words, “Hey, if you like a writer, no reason to give him or her up just because sales are almost non-existent.”

As someone who’s spoken to a good number of editors and agents (and who reads extensively about the publishing industry), I can say with complete certainty that I’ve never heard anyone associated with a major publishing conglomerate say anything even close to what Marty said in his brief note. He publishes books because he loves them — and loves sharing their work with the world — not because they might make a buck or two.

To me, this is what the small press movement is all about.