Her Body & Other Parties (2017) by Carmen Maria Machado is a collation of eight stories. It’s abstract and creepy. It’s reminiscent of the way people imagine Murakami’s work to be but this is feminist, women-centered and more potent. And like Murakami, it has its strengths and weaknesses.
“If you are reading this story out loud, force a listener to reveal a devastating secret, then open the nearest window to the street and scream it as loudly as you are able”
The short stories certainly took me by surprise. The most powerful were the first two. The first comes with strange instructions for reading out loud that are unexpected but somehow relevant. The above quote come just after a part that evoke emotions of shame and exposure – and then she gives you this instruction to evoke a similar sensation in the readers. And, exactly like a feminist Murakami, you’re left with feelings more than a concrete understanding of a plot.
““I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.”
There’s a haunting, chilling feeling of suspense all the way through, even though your not really waiting for anything to happen. None of the stories really are horror or thriller but it feels like one. It’s all the hair tingling without any murders or clear disaster. The genre would be some kind of fairytale horror blend.
“That may not be the version of the story you’re familiar with. But I assure you, it’s the one you need to know”
When you look at the works as one whole its not bad, but take it apart and all the power is in the first two, and the rest are various levels of disappointments. Her writing is brilliant and imaginative: i.e. “a man mean as Mondays” and “you aggressively ordinary woman” as insults.
“When you think about it, stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. Each is borne from the clouds separate, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart”
- The Husband Stitch
This is a story where a woman, wearing a green ribbon, marries the love of her life and they raise a child together and then he takes off her ribbon and her head falls off – a narrative intermittently interrupted by erie instructions on how to read the story out loud. She does manage to make it all about the way women’s bodies are managed in the institutions of marriage, love and childbirth.
This review from The Guardian demonstrates it well: “how much to get that extra stitch?” the narrator’s husband asks in the labour room as his wife is sewn up after a difficult birth. “You offer that, right?” “The husband stitch” – the term for an extra stitch to tighten the vaginal opening when repairing an episiotomy – is considered a dark joke from the battlefield of birth, but has been attested to as part of the violence visited on women’s bodies during labour.
BUT! Plot twist. My favorite story of the collection is not even original? It’s apparently a retelling of a children’s story! So her imagination is a little less wild than I thought I was because her original stories were less impressive.
“As my lopped head tips backward off my neck and rolls off the bed, I feel lonely as I have ever been”
This was written as a list of all sexual encounters that the narrator had throughout her life. They were anonymous but intimate and through each sexual flash we learn about the world and her life and it’s like her life is made up of a composite of intimicies. We also discover in trickles with gaps of years and days, that the known world is crumbling as a virus spreads and kills off most of humanity.
“The sand is blowing into my mouth, my hair, the centre crevice of my notebook, and the sea is choppy and grey… I realise the world will continue to turn, even with no people on it. Maybe it will go a little faster”
This was confusing and random. I think it’s about a woman who stalks another and steals her baby? Not sure. But there’s a part where she turns feminism into a religion that was fun to read.
“Audre Lorde over cucumbers, Elizabeth Bishop over some carrots; the Exaltation of Patricia Highsmith, celebrated with escargots boiling in butter and garlic and cliffhangers recited by an autumn fire; the Ascension of Frida Kahlo with self-portraits and costumes; the Presentation of Shirley Jackson, a winter holiday started at dawn and ended at dusk with a gambling game played with lost milk teeth and stones. Some of them with their own books; the major and minor arcana of our little religion”
- Especially Heinous
This story was written as a series episode blurbs, separated into seasons, of a fictitious imagining of the Law and Order series. The premise is intriguing but it went on too long and didn’t really pack a punch -especially when the two main cops suddenly had dopplegangers and I could see no good reason for it. Still fun to read though.
- Real Women Have Bodies
I feel like in this story, Machado lost the plot. In this one, women start disappearing/fading out of existence and stay as invisible ghosts on the planet. These women then asked to be stitched into prom dresses. The protagonist’s lesbian lover is one of these women who start fading. I get that she was trying to show how focused people are on women’s bodies and what the world be if they took those bodies away – the fading is equivalent to women’s personal choices being taken from them without their say. However, I wasn’t really inspired by this piece.
- Eight Bites
The weakest one was this weight loss surgery one. The protagonist was the last in a group of sisters who decides to undergo what I believe to be gastric bypass surgery (or gastric sleeve). Machado never really took a stance. It seemed pointless .. are you denouncing weight loss surgery? On what grounds? It was neither empowering nor explicitly critical of the pressures that make people want to go through the surgery. She skips over all health reasons, dangers of obesity, overeating/anorexia and anything else and focuses on how people want to lose weight to look good? I don’t think gastric surgery is a feminist issue.
- The Resident
An author leaves her lesbian partner and goes up to the mountains to an artist retreat to finish her novel. It happens to be the same place where she went to camp as a kid. Nothing happened but she had a mental breakdown, yelled at everyone and left. Yet it was unnecessarily creepy because of nightmares and scary descriptions – I kept waiting for murder.
“ “It is my right to reside in my own mind. It is my right,” I said. “It is my right to be unsociable and it is my right to be unpleasant to be around. Do you ever listen to yourself? This is crazy, that is crazy, everything is crazy to you. By whose measure? Well, it is my right to be crazy”
- Difficult at Parties
This is about a woman recovering from rape. The only detail of the abuse we really get is that it happened on a Tuesday. She tries to get through it with her loving boyfriend and watches a large amount of porn. She goes to a party but freaks out when she sees a video recorder.