Review: “Her Body and Other Parties,” Carmen Maria Machado

Rating: 4 out of 5

Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties: Stories is a bizarre and arresting collection of short stories.

“The Husband Stitch” is one of my favorite stories in this volume. It’s about a girl’s journey from her teens, through getting married, having a son, and so on. Throughout it all, there’s a thread: she wears a green ribbon around her neck, and she won’t let her husband touch it. Despite the fact that this one ended up exactly where I thought it would, the journey was so striking that it was in no way a letdown at all.

In “Inventory,” a person goes through the inventory of past lovers: relationships, kisses, marriages, sex. In the background there’s an epidemic going on. It’s a narrow, fascinating context in which to view such a thing.

In “Mothers,” the protagonist comes home to find her old lover, named Bad, holding a child that she says is hers. Bad leaves the child with her, and she struggles to come to terms with it. Things got a bit weird for me in this one. It’s a bit tough to read, because there are a number of memories of her abusive relationship with Bad.

My other favorite story is “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU.” I’m sure I’d have gotten a lot more out of it if I watched the show, but it’s still fantastic (I do at least have the basics of who Benson and Stabler are and what they do). It’s written as an “episode guide” and the stories get stranger and stranger as the thing goes along. It’s kind of a wacky cosmic horror genre. Benson and Stabler have doppelgangers who are better at their jobs than they are, there are dead girls who haunt Benson, and there’s a heartbeat under the city that they both hear.

Benson starts sleeping with a crucifix and pungent ropes of garlic, because she does not understand the difference between vampires and murdered teenagers. Not yet.

“Real Women Have Bodies” is about a mysterious epidemic of women going incorporeal, as a backdrop for another relationship story.

“Eight Bites” is tough to read. It’s about four sisters who all decide to go in for bariatric surgery in order to lose weight–mostly about the fourth sister to go in. I did appreciate the ending.

“The Resident” is a story of a woman who is accepted to be a resident at an artists’ retreat. This story is a slow and bizarre descent into the depths of the protagonist’s mind. Too slow and amorphous for my tastes, but I think for a lot of people it will be perfect.

Finally there’s “Difficult at Parties.” I think I understand what happened in this story? Maybe? The protagonist has just gotten home from the hospital, and her partner, Paul, doesn’t seem to know how to handle her. Things come to a head when they go to Jane and Jill’s housewarming.

I think if you prefer slow, winding horror that’s largely internal, this will be perfect for you. For me it fell slightly on the side of too slow and too winding.

Content note for sex, lots of sex, rape, incest, and body dysmorphia/eating disorders. On a happier note, plenty of lesbian sex!

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