This novel is an incredible example of surrealism in current literary fiction. Etter blurs the line between the grotesque and real life, normative experiences. In one scene, the world appears as it should be, in the next it may as well be melting before your eyes like a Dali painting. The reader never knows what they might find upon turning the page ... these devices work as both symbolism and commentary on themes central to the female experience such as body image and beauty, acceptance and loss, identity and gender roles ... the unconventional structure stretches the normal bounds of a novel by combining the main narrative with two other elements: visions of a different, dream-like reality and bulleted lists of facts relating back to the storyline ... Each of these unique choices made by Etter, along with the severe beauty and crippling pain of her writing, work together to create a singular emotional experience ... Etter has such a compelling way of communicating emotion that reading this novel becomes an immersive act. Without hesitation, I highly recommend The Book of X! It is one of the most visceral, mind-bending reading experiences I have had in a very long time.
The Book of X is not a read that strives to uplift—yet, as with the works of Gay and Machado, I emerge from Sarah Rose Etter’s The Book of X with the inexplicable joy that is feeling understood ... Etter’s experimental form is rich, and The Book of X is most gripping in its depiction of the fraught relationships between its female characters ... The Book of X is the book of us: women who have cried in shopping mall dressing rooms, who have been taught to subsist on Diet Coke and low-sodium chicken broth, who have learned from our mothers how to best hide the truth of our bodies.
Etter writes her weird world with elastic prose, as stripped-down at certain points as it is lyrical in others. The book is composed of short narrative sections, often multiple to a page, broken up with 'visions,' italicized sections of situations Cassie wishes were reality but alas are not. These are perhaps the most compelling features of The Book of X, as Etter finds a way to make them feel truly aspirational and revealing ... such a powerful novel.
... weird and wonderful ... recalls David Lynch’s vision of the city in Eraserhead ... The literalization of the figurative is of course a classic narrative device. See Gregor Samsa, for example, or the Grinch, whose small heart grows three sizes that day. Etter claims that trope all for her own, however, and freshens it up in order to revel in a kind of feminist surrealism. Though entirely original, The Book of X sometimes calls to mind Kathryn Davis’s stunning debut novel Labrador ... cannot be pinned down to one easy-to-consume moral. Instead, it raises necessary questions about mother/daughter relations as well as bodily autonomy and the challenges to it, especially in places where meat is so prized.
The story makes certain one thing is for certain...when growing up, all one really does is get beat down, and somehow Sarah Rose Etter makes that dark truth so darn pleasurable ... The novel makes me think of the works of Alfred Jarry or André Breton, except for the fact that Etter is of the now, meaning that we can better understand her ... What I expected to be a weird book about a knot ended up being a profound meditation on womanhood and heredity, bullying and plastic surgery––loneliness.
... visceral and heavy, with a strong focus on bodies, discomfort, loneliness, and the pains of being woman and of being different. Once the reader adjusts to the style and plot oddities (written like a prose poem, the book at times feels like a series of vignettes with Cassie as the focus), they will be sure to find a poignant and emotionally complex book about growing older and the search for acceptance, love, and validation in a world that refuses to see you as anything but a broken body.
A literary foray into the macabre madness of womanhood,...captures the innocent joys and creeping horrors of a young girl’s trek into adulthood ... Though the novel’s setting is at times fantastical, the trials of its characters are rooted in familiar realities ... 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.
Etter’s novel is about embodiment, yes, but it is also about mood, about a very specific kind of aloneness. Call it alienation. Call it the surreality of being some body that story cannot capture fully ... This sense of standing alone, on the cusp of something strange and beautiful, of bearing witness, of attempting to capture or hold it, is the feeling or mood that sits with this story. It is about, maybe, being inside a body, inside that quiet and persistent yearning for everything beyond the self.
Despite these strange activities and Cassie’s deformity, the novel unfolds in a fairly conventional manner ... Etter has crafted a strange and surreal novel that serves as a reminder that while we might carry our afflictions with us wherever we go, it’s up to us whether we let our burdens define us. The Book of X looks like an experimental novel, but feels like a classic.
The surreality highlights the unbearably visceral way Cassie sees the world, whether she’s helping her father harvest meat with her bare hands from the 'red wetness' of the quarry, wandering through fields of throats, or having electric eels applied to her abdomen in the futile hope of becoming normal ... A relentlessly original look at what it means to exist in a female body.
Etter’s ultrastylized and surreal debut casts a reflection that, like a carnival mirror, points aptly, if heavy-handedly, at humanity’s defects ... Etter’s coming-of-age story builds intrigue as it morphs into a portrait of a young woman adrift, but the narrative is often obscured by Cassie’s fragmented, lyrical voice, resulting in an uneven debut.