The surreal 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.
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.