So here’s the thing about Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado . . . How do I describe this book and my reactions to it? Because it’s not just any book. And I almost feel guilty for saying I liked it because it’s not happy subject matter.
The book is brilliantly written and clever, and the stories each have that magical realism style that I tend to really like. But it goes beyond that. There’s an undertone of creepiness running throughout, and Machado successfully blurs the lines between magical realism, sci-fi, comedy, horror, and fantasy. Ordinarily, these are not genres I gravitate toward (except magical realism) but her writing is so compelling and striking, I was captivated . . . and slightly horrified. She breaks rules but does so brilliantly.
The subject matter is at times uncomfortable yet necessary, uncomfortable and unnecessary, and provocative. The book cover copy describes the collection as “. . . narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies,” which I think is a good description. So it’s not necessarily a pleasant topic but an important one.
Machado first published her short story “The Husband Stitch,” in a magazine and it got rave reviews. To me, it is the best story in the book. Like other stories, it has a fairy-tale like quality but this is not your ordinary fairy tale. It’s a haunting and powerful love story that reveals the demand and control over women—and the consequences.
Other stories that stood out for me: “Inventory,” “Mothers,” “Eight Bites,” and “Difficult at Parties.” “The Resident” felt almost like an Edgar Allen Poe tale about, what I thought, was a writer’s inability to distinguish past and present and her descent into madness—or unveiling of madness that was already there. I didn’t love “Real Women Have Bodies,” although that one gets a lot of praise. If you really think about what the story is about, it is more disturbing than it reads.
This book is not for anyone who is uncomfortable with sex—implicit and graphically explicit—in stories or for anyone who likes straightforward fiction. There is a lot of abstraction, symbolism, and fantasy, so if that’s not your thing, you probably won’t like this. BUT, it you are open to something different, something beyond definition, stimulating stories, and gripping and gorgeous writing, then I would highly recommend this book, which was a National Book Award finalist. I definitely think author Carmen Maria Machado is one to watch—I think her writing career will be quite remarkable.
(Image found here.)