Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Series: N/A
Pages: 248
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Release Date: October 3rd 2017

      “”In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
      A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
      Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious,
Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.”

swirl (2)

“On either side of the road, the white trunks of the trees were illuminated to a degree, the kind of brief visibility provided by a camera’s flash at midnight. I saw a layer or two of trees, and beyond that an opaque blackness that was disturbing to me. Autumn was the worst time to go into the mountains, I thought to myself. To drive into the wilderness when it writhed and gasped for air seemed foolish.”

Carmen Maria Machado takes readers on a strange, yet thought-provoking ride in her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. Each story features a different nameless female narrator, with one exception, surrounding the theme of female autonomy and both the subtle and conspicuous ways women are stripped of control. Though it is difficult to give a label to these stories, much of them are infused with horror and science-fiction elements. Each of the eight stories were compelling in their own way, but I was taken with how introspective each of Machado’s narrators were. A couple of stories had me scratching my head, trying to understand exactly what the purpose was, but I kept turning the pages regardless, wanting to know the end even if I understood very little.

There are two stories that stand out to me the most in this collection. The first being The Husband Stitch, the opening story and inspiration for the cover art. It tells of a young woman’s sexual awakening, her marriage and the difficult birth of her one and one child. She gives everything of herself to both her husband and son, while trying to protect this one small part of herself. This is physically manifested as a ribbon tied around her neck. Some may recognize this story from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz, but I assure you, Machado brings her unique voice to the tale. The narrator’s husband becomes fixated on her green ribbon, not because it is in itself a mystery demanding to be unlocked, but because it belongs to this woman and her husband cannot fathom why she should not want to share it with him. Even her son, small as he is, must eventually be warned away from the ribbon. One of my favorite elements of this story is Machado’s inclusion of these interactive annotations at the end of key scenes. For example, this excerpt comes after she is forced to startle her child with a can full of pennies in order to stop him from pulling her ribbon. She ends the scene by saying something has shifted between them and their relationship is never the same.

“(If you are reading this story out loud, prepare a soda can full of pennies. When you arrive at this moment, shake it loudly in the face of the people closest to you. Observe their expressions of startled fear, then betrayal. Notice how they never look at you exactly the same way for the rest of your days.)”

The Resident is another story that ended up being one of my favorites. The story opens with a woman driving to the mountains to take part in a type of retreat for various artists. The narrator makes the trip to a familiar area she used to visit as a Girl Scout. There are hints of a traumatic event that happened in the past and an building tension throughout the story. My favorite aspect of these stories was the horror component. For this story in particular, I loved how eerie the setting was, the dark and strange descriptions, and the foreboding atmosphere. The story, like many of the others, has more of an ambiguous conclusion. It’s a familiar horror trope that I didn’t mind because of how much I enjoyed the journey these stories took me on.

If you’re looking for a short story collection with captivating writing and don’t mind the odd story or two, Her Body and Other Parties is one you should definitely check out. Machado’s storytelling is addictive and I dove into each story with my eyes wide and ready to be taken on an unique ride.

4/5

★★★★

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12 thoughts on “Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

  1. Excellent review Alicia! I don’t usually read collection of short stories as they often leave me frustrated (not enough) but this one seems really interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This book does sound very odd, but I’m glad it was odd in a good way! Kind of perfect for the season of hand, isn’t it?
    So happy you enjoyed it, Alicia, and what an amazing review this was! I guess strange books do make words flow in a more captivating way than usual 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad that the success of Machado’s book us bringing attention to Graywolf Press. They’re a good small press. I’ve met some of their authors, back when I was in my MFA program.

    And…..did Machado describe what a “husband stitch” actually is? 😬

    Liked by 1 person

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