A girl born with an unusual disfigurement navigates the loneliness and trauma caused by her physical difference in this surreal first novel.
Cassie comes from a long line of women born with a knotted torso. These knots aren’t small bulges, like a knotted muscle. “Picture,” Cassie tells us, “three women with their torsos twisted like thick pieces of rope with a single hitch in the center.” At school, Cassie is tormented by her classmates; her only friend, Sophia, runs hot and cold with her affections, and Cassie’s crush, Jarred, finds her both attractive and repulsive. At home, things are not much better. Each day Cassie’s dad and brother go off to the nearby Meat Quarry, tearing raw meat from vast cavern walls and selling it at the market when demand is strong. Cassie’s mother is reaching the age when her knot begins to cause her severe physical pain; she turns her ferocious attention on Cassie’s appearance, encouraging her daughter to slim down by packing her rocks for lunch. When an act of violence shatters whatever uneasy peace Cassie has made with her own body, she must spend the rest of her life dealing with the dark aftermath. Etter, who has one previous collection of short fiction (Tongue Party, 2011), structures this book in fragments, alternating the story of Cassie’s physical struggles with sections called “Vision,” in which Cassie imagines an alternate life for herself. 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.