Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Release Date: October 3rd 2017
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.