Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press
October 3rd, 2017

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press, 2017

Carmen Maria Machado begins Her Body and Other Parties with two powerful epigraphs that create the atmosphere you’ll inhabit for the duration of the critically acclaimed short story collection.

My body is a haunted
house that I am lost in.
There are no doors but there are knives
and a hundred windows.
—Jacqui Germain

god should have made girls lethal
when he made monsters of men.
—Elizabeth Hewer

Her Body and Other Parties is Machado’s stunning debut collection of short stories. It is mythic, folkloric, and wild in every sense of the word: rough, mad, tempestuous, devastated, disheveled, feral, riotous, and fierce. The book exists as a product of our culture and also reflects it, successfully queering the narrative. One of the things I was most impressed with was her persistent and deliberate choice to normalize queerness.

Machado’s work defies classification, existing as something strange and sensual, emotionally raw, magical, and suffused with creeping dread. There are no rules within these stories. They inconsistently blur the line between feasibility and fiction, lulling you into a sense of security with their normalcy and then taking a jarring turn toward the other, something unknown and impossible. Some take place in our present-day reality, some take place in the far future, a world that may never be, and some exist perhaps entirely in the protagonist’s head.

There is a story, “The Husband Stitch,” about a life subsumed by male needs. That’s the short version, but it’s so much more. Like all of the other stories in the collection, it haunts. It conjures childhood nostalgia through campfire scary stories, old legends, and twists them into something else, something evocative and frightening and familiar: the shared experience of womanhood as hunted, as owned, as other.

There is a story about the end of the world.

There is a story about a horrific secret hidden in the seams of the dresses in a custom dressmaker’s shop.

There is a story I do not entirely grasp about Law & Order: SVU. It lingers. There are forgotten women with bells for eyes and evil doppelgangers. The whole thing is an absurd mystic theater that plays out via tweet-like episode summaries and I still don’t get it but my brain won’t stop turning it over and over.

There is my favorite story, the most obvious link to the author. The main character’s initials are C–––– M–––– and she writes at a residency, finds herself trapped in the grip of some mania.

The stories in Her Body and Other Parties are brilliant and cutting. They haunt you long after you finish reading and keep you wondering. Aside from the persistent thread of queerness, the book also weaves a narrative of unrelenting feminine perspective in a way that does not apologize or ask for forgiveness. Every story contains a pervasive sense of unease that holds you fast. Machado’s lines flayed me, made me feel raw and exposed. Some of her stories left me feeling like I was squinting into the distance, grasping at air. I couldn’t quite make out the meaning, but I keep trying. Others I understood immediately in a way that called to the other, the stranger inside of me, and I cannot let them go.

Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties reminds me of the world’s terrible beauty. If you don’t read Her Body and Other Parties, it will never have the chance to haunt you too.