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.”

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“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

★★★★

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys Edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by April Genevieve Tucholke

Title: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
Editor: April Genevieve Tucholke
Authors: Various
Series: N/A

Ghosts, murderers, and death bring plenty of frights in this horror anthology. Inspired by various mediums from films to classic horror novels to music, these fourteen short stories are filled with thrills, twists, and trepidation. And just when you think you have a story figured out, the surprises are fierce yet strangely satisfying.

“After a while, Richard started getting the distinct impression that someone was watching him sleep. There was a strange weight in his room, as if the furniture or the walls weren’t aligned quite right, and sometimes he would feel that weight press against his chest like a stone.”

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a great collection of horror stories perfect for October. I’m familiar with most of the authors in this anthology, having read books by a large majority of them. Authors like Nova Ren Suma and Jonathan Maberry are sure to bring their personal brand of the strange and thrilling, but I was most impressed by authors like Marie Lu. Best known for her Legend series, Lu weaves together one of my favorite short stories in this book. The Girl Without a Face takes something as simple as a closet that won’t open and turns it into a tale that had me glancing at my own several times, hoping it was empty. April Genevieve Tucholke’s The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh takes you for a ride where you end up rooting against key characters. This is my first reading experience with this author and it won’t be my last.

There were several stories in this anthology which were so good at introducing intriguing characters and exciting storylines that I found myself wanting the authors to turn them into full-length novels. Jonathan Maberry’s Fat Girl with a Knife would make a perfect introduction to a novel about an unlikely heroine battling for survival.  Jay Kristoff’s Sleepless starts off like a cheesy horror-movie where you’re screaming at one of the characters to be smarter, but ends up pulling the rug out from under you and begging for more in the end.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is fantastic for those looking for a quick scare during this Halloween season. While ghosts and killers may be the obvious choice for a horror story, many of these authors select more unconventional characters and what results is a really diverse blend of frightful tales that will surely delight horror fans.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

October Fright: Poe Thrills

octofriSometimes reading a whole book or watching a two-hour movie just takes too long. Sometimes you’re just looking for a quick thrill. When this happens I reach for good ol’ Edgar Allan Poe because nobody does it like Poe. Halloween is only a couple of days away, so I thought I would share some of my favorite short stories by the master along their first lines, so you can get a taste for what they entail. Here are some of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe short-stories:

The Tell-Tale Heart:


TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

Spoiler alert: he’s definitely mad. Those interested can listen to actor Matthew Gray Gubler’s rendition of this short story here.

The Masque of the Red Death:

“THE ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.”

Depending on how you look at it, Poe is very good and never shy when describing the nitty-gritty details.

The Pit and the Pendulum:

“I WAS sick — sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me. The sentence — the dread sentence of death — was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.”

This story is like a nightmare come true.

The Fall of the House of Usher:

“DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”

Lesson learned: don’t help other people entomb bodies.

These chilling short-stories are sure to put you in the Halloween mood if you’re looking for a quick thrill. Other notable Edgar Allan Poe stories I like: The Black Cat and his most famous poem The Raven.

The Friday 56, #32: The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join in every Friday, the rules are simple.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

 

While I spoke, there came a marked change over the countenance of the sleep-waker. The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue, resembling not so much parchment as white paper…”

I love me some Edgar Allan Poe. He’s my go-to author for Halloween. This 56 is from his short story The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar found in my copy of The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings. I haven’t read this particular story yet, but it sounds a tad grotesque, but that’s Poe for you.