Bookish Wednesday: Her Body and Other Parties

he short story author, essayist, and critic Carmen Maria Machado made her debut in 2017 with a  short story collection called Her Body and Other Parties. It’s composed of eight speculative tales and the book is quite difficult to categorize. They don't circumscribe to the traits of a single genre. Arguably, they can all be thought of as horror, but the horrific stems from fantasy, fairy tales, folktales, or science fiction. The horror is also very diverse. There's body horror, paranormal horror, horror-romance, and psychological horror. Sometimes the situations are horrifying or unsettling within the context or because of their implications.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The first tale, “The Husband Stitch,” is a reimagining of the classic children’s tale, “The Green Ribbon”, told from the point of view of a wife with a ribbon around her neck that her husband insists on removing throughout their lives together. The story laments how men, whether they’re “bad” or “good,” disrespect the boundaries and autonomy of the women they love. The husband misinterprets her refusal as distrust or dishonesty, refusing to allow a  secret to the woman that has given herself to him through all their lives.

The second tale, “Inventory,” is easily identifiable as a science fiction tale. A woman recounts all the lovers she’s ever had throughout her quest for survival in the middle of a mysterious epidemic. The following story, “Mothers,” is the surreal and ambiguous tale of two women and the child they conceived together. The longest tale, “Especially Heinous,” tells an unsettling ghost story using Law and Order: SVU episode titles and descriptions crafted by Machado.

The protagonist in “Real Women Have Bodies” works at a dress store. A ghastly ailment is making women vanish slowly. She discovers the essence of these women is sewn into the dresses sold at her workplace, but nobody else can see them. The story takes this notion of “real women” to explore what would happen if women were literally stripped of their bodies. It takes the struggle for self-ownership that women face their whole lives a further and disturbing step, be it through the quest for healthcare, sexual liberation, or defying beauty norms. 

The next spooky narration (“Eight Bites”) is about a mother that decides to have a surgery that alludes to the gastric bypass. This decision puts her at odds with her daughter, and with her inner self. In the second to last story, “The Resident,” a writer is invited to join a residency in the woods and something is amiss in her cabin. The chilling closing tale,“Difficult at Parties,” tells the tale of an assault survivor who can suddenly listen to porn actors’ thoughts. The story uses fantastic elements to exemplify the aftermath of sexual trauma and being stripped of your bodily autonomy.

My favorite short story was “Inventory” because it very originally transgresses the apocalyptic/virus narrative by telling it exclusively through sexual encounters. The main character is also queer, so it’s even more alternative to popular stories about epidemics. It gives that additional perspective that epidemic stories lack.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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As you can see, the stories range from fairytales and folktales to science fiction and dark fantasy. But as different as they may be, they’re all undoubtedly feminist, queer, and terrifying. Machado frequently explores women’s relationships with their bodies, and how our bodies are subjected to violence in a patriarchal society. She turns the horrors of gendered violence, rape culture, and feminine beauty ideals into unsettling what-ifs.

You can purchase Her Body and Other Parties in a local bookstore, like The Bookmark or Amazon.