My Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
Each of these stories was masterfully crafted. Each one could stand on its own but combined, these stories relate powerful themes. I cannot choose a favorite story, but especially enjoyed “The Husband Stitch” for its commentary on respecting boundaries and men’s preoccupation with controlling women’s bodies, “Especially Heinous” for its horrific retelling of the television show Law & Order: SVU, and “Eight Bites” for its commentary on women, their eating habits, and daring to take up space.
These stories can be difficult to read as they do not shy away from violence, particularly against women. And that’s the point of this collection. Women suffer and endure a tremendous amount of violence enacted on their bodies, both by their hands and by men’s hands. By giving literal shape to much of this violence, these stories take on an eerie and ethereal tone.
I think my favorite thing about these stories is that I’m thinking about them days later. These are not stories, themes,or characters that will wrap up neatly inside a box. After reading this collection, I find myself paying more attention to how and when we listen to women. I’m paying more attention to what language women and men use to talk about women’s bodies and other women’s actions. The messages in these stories are present in our daily lives, making the horror in this collection that much more real.
Overall, I loved this collection. I highly recommend taking your time with these stories and read one every few days. Each one deserves to be savored, both for its artistry and so the messages and themes can be better processed.
This book is…
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: short stories
Page Count: 248
Available here from Book Depository.
Have you read Her Body and Other Parties? What sorts of short stories do you like to read?