Book Review: Sin Eaters
Reviewed by Alexandra Barbush
The strange inner lives of unfortunate souls living in the American midwest
Tankersley’s Sin Eaters examines the downcast, the strange, and the unlovable. While each story is specific in location and with its own unique feeling—they are all connected by a shared thread of misery, of misunderstanding, and of human confusion.
Some stories tell a plain tale that can and does happen to anyone, on any day. “Swamp Creatures” features a husband and wife who have fallen out of love and live together for a while anyway. When the husband suggests children in order to fix them, he brings around a young girl for his wife to babysit. Things seem sweet and ordinary at first, but soon she’s obsessing over the swamp in their backyard as equally as with the little girl.
“Apparitions” centers on a young gay couple, living together happily with dreams of moving to California. Although their Christian-shame past sits heavy with them, they are successful, happy, and relatively free. But one day, a rusted dirt spot in the bath rub resembling Jesus Christ upends everything.
One of the young men starts taking longer and longer showers, speaking about the Christ figure like it’s a message, sent just for him. When their California plans are overhauled by the rusty-Christ, they dissolve as quickly as throwing bleach on the stain.
“Uncle Bob” contains two main characters from the same family, each contemplating their family’s famous legacy: attempted suicide. A young man and his elderly uncle go back and forth, considering the act for themselves. When one of them tries and fails, the other will be there to console him and offer advice for the next time.
The titular story, “Sin Eaters,” features a lady whose jaw has fantastically expanded down to the floor. She keeps it tied tight with a scarf but people around town start to talk. The dentist lets her know she’s a “sin eater,” an unfortunate soul forced to swallow the sins of those around her. She’ll have to figure out what exact sin is causing the problem and swallow it whole before she can go back to normal.
I’d recommend this work to anyone interested in a quick, distorted, and humorous read. The stories are short and pungent, leaving the reader with the reeling sense of, What just happened?
The characters are both sure of themselves, unwavering in their path, and completely unsure of where exactly they are at any given time. Dancing back and forth between real life and fantasy, the short stories vary in length so you can take it or leave it. At times funny, the reader doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the various predicaments, both strange and untoward. Themes of repression, fear, suffering, sin, and religious undertones ring true.
All of the characters are pitiful in their own way. Even when they try to do right, they end up all wrong. They’re people you know or people you’ve heard of, twisted and warped by their own imagination or the painful circumstances they live in. While each story has a profound sense of sadness, the funny overtones wrap together seamlessly to make it a pleasant, albeit sometimes strange, read.
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Genre: Short Story Collection / Literary Fiction
Print Length: 184 pages
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