Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Genre: Speculative fiction. Paranormal (Adult) NSFW
Topics: Women’s Bodies, Sex, Violence
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publishing Year: 2017
Pages: 248
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 4/5

Going into this book I was a little hesitant. I am pretty squeamish about horror so generally I would not pick this up on my own but I kept hearing how incredible this collection was from multiple readers which finally compelled me to pick it up and I am so glad I did! Days after having finished this collection I am still mulling over a couple of the stories that for one reason or another I found resonated with me and have not let me go. I want to reread this collection and try to parcel out the visceral reactions this collection provoked in me. If that is not the sign of some great short stories I don’t know what is.

Summary: 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. 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.

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.

Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of short stories that are centered around the experiences of the female body. Although the levels of explicitness when it comes to sex and violence vary story to story, there is a consistent thread of eeriness that binds the stories together: each story is set in a recognizable version of our world with something that is slightly...off. Machado uses these strange elements in an otherwise normal setting, whether its spectral apparitions or coyly placed ribbons that must never be untied, to explore the connections between gender, violence, bodily integrity, sex and self in unsettling ways. Machado blends the macabre and the ordinary so well together that the reader will occasionally look over their shoulder just to check that everything is alright. 

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As in any collection of short stories you will find some that resonate more and some that resonate less with you as a reader and your particular circumstances. For example a friend of mine who is a new mother admitted to being particularly impacted by the story titled “The Mothers” which narrates the dark and sometimes violent thoughts of a new mom. For me personally, the first story “The Husband Stitch”, is a re-telling of the fable of the green-ribbon woman was the most disturbing and thrilling of the lot. It left me wanting to simultaneously devour the whole book at once and take it slow to mentally digest each story. I chose to do the later which might have been a mistake for me. I found that the later stories did not have the same ‘punch’ as the first half especially the two longer pieces which at times felt like they lost some of the tension given the added length but perhaps this a personal preference matter and these stories will resonate with other readers.

Despite the slower pacing of the later stories. There is no denying that Machado is an amazing and skillful writer, and her language itself is mesmerizing but where the stories really shine is in the creation of  each character’s rich and evolving emotional life in just a few pages. The bizzare and often grotesque twists in the fabric of reality are not the ‘gasp’ inducing factor in these stories but rather how they elicit very real and disturbing human reactions and emotions in the characters that live in these worlds. In this way Machado uses the fantastic to hold a mirror to our often unexamined everyday lives to reveal an image that is just as chilling as any ghost.

Is the reading experience fun? I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily ‘pleasant’ but it’s not supposed to be. It is uncomfortable, it makes you think and question and above all, makes you feel. These stories defy easy categorization often drawing on elements of horror, erotica, magical realism and fables to tell utterly original and entirely engrossing tales. This collection would be a perfect read for a chilly Halloween night but will thrill and entrance any day of the year.

 

Read if you like:

  • Horror/Paranormal

  • Black Mirror (TV Show)

  • Feminist twists on genre fiction