Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Writer: Carmen Maria Machado
Publishing House: Graywolf Press
Date of Publication: October 3rd 2017
Rating: 5 stars
‘’What magical thing could you want so badly they take you away from the known world for wanting it?’’
This book is one of those cases when you feel someone calling your name. From the enticing cover to the cryptic tale. Naturally, this being a short story collection falling into Literary Fiction, Magical Realism and Gender Studies, finding itself in my hands was unavoidable. This proved to be a very special, extreme adventure.
Machado writes with bravery, clarity, and confidence, centering her stories on sexuality and beauty from the perspective of women who do not follow the flow or adjust to society’s demands and conformities. In frank, open, haunting writing, she stresses how the body becomes a projection of the way women have been viewed- and are still viewed- in our societies. Beauty, sexuality, everything is preconceived, even in our modern, sophisticated world. More so now, I believe. Many support- either consciously or not- that you must change when you are different or you will find yourself ostracised. This notion was obviously much more common in the past. In my opinion, today we have a different kind of isolation. The psychological imprisonment, the bullying, the feeling that you simply aren’t good enough. We let others decide and throw parties on our bodies and our souls. Why? Because we need acceptance. What if we don’t find fit the image of beauty and grace others have already cultivated for us?
The Husband Stitch: A woman, born with a green ribbon on her neck, finds love and creates a beautiful family. Or does she? A dark tale that becomes darker with references to urban legends and tragic folk myths. Absolutely brilliant.
Inventory: A woman remembers past lovers as a deathly virus is slowly destroying the country.
Mothers: A very complex story, centered around a horribly dysfunctional relationship, where reality blends with the memories of a shattered mind. This is one of the most powerful moments in the collection.
‘’Stabler never told Benson about his little brother. But he also never told her about his older brother, which was understandable, because he didn’t know about him, either’’ (If this isn’t perfect sarcasm, I don’t know what is…)
Especially Heinous: Machado imagines plot lines for episodes of the TV series Law and Order: SVU or whatever its name is. Frankly, they are so much better than the actual episodes of the actual series. The only problem? I found this to be completely irrelevant to the overall tone of the collection but it was hugely entertaining.
Real Women Have Bodies: Women become mist. Suddenly and without any comprehensible cause. They turn invisible while clothes become alive. This is a story of the complex relationship between us and our bodies which become even more perplexing as we grow up. Body positivity, anorexia, the notion adopted by many men that our bodies are theirs to use as they see fit since the beginning of time. Who and what decides how a ‘’real’’ woman should look like? This is such a beautiful, tragic tale with a beautiful relationship at its heart and haunting descriptions of the misty women.
‘’Foxes wove through the streets at night. There was a white one among them, sleek and fast, and she looked like the ghost of the others.’’
Eight Bites: One of the most profound stories in the collection. Young women have to undergo surgeries to remain thin. Eight bites. That’s what they can eat. Eight bites to keep the perfect body intact.
‘’Do you ever worry’’, she asked me, ‘’that you’re the madwoman in the attic?’’
The Resident: This is the most perplexing story in the collection. It gave me quite a lot of trouble in trying to classify it so to speak. A woman finds herself in an old-fashioned hotel, occupied by bohemian artists that are not what they seem. Is it a horror story? An allegory? Probably a combination of the two. It is certainly haunting, sensual and atmospheric but I didn’t find it particularly interesting. If anything, it seemed a bit pretentious.
Difficult at Parties: A story of trauma, abuse, and obsession that crosses the lines. I found parts of this tale distasteful and, for me, this was the dud of the collection.
Despite the (very) few issues, this is a raw, haunting, brave collection. I recommend it without any hesitation but I don’t think it is for everyone. If you are uncomfortable with certain dark thematic elements, there’s a chance you may not enjoy it. However, I know that most of us are brave readers, attracted to dark and controversial themes and to books that make us think….
‘’There are strange evenings when the sun sets but it rains anyway, and the sky is gold and peach and also gray and purple like a bruise. Every morning, a fine mist coats the grove. Some nights, a bloody harvest moon rises over the horizon and stains the clouds like an alien sunrise.’’