Each horrific story within Her Body and Other Parties is a brutal representation of the weight and expectations put on women's bodies and what that weight does to one's well being.
Carmen Maria Machado's debut is fantastic; each story in her collection reads like having a splinter yanked from your thumb--a terrifying relief. While reading I was both frightened and captivated by the realization that I have never read anything like these stories before, and I do not know if this is because I have avoided things that may make other people uncomfortable or because stories featuring sexual and violent women are not as available as I once believed.
Machado gives her readers unnamed female narrators who are colorful and curious and complex and queer. Each story feels finished but unfinished, as though these characters could be found again at a later date, but also left to hang between the pages, which, for these narrators, wouldn't be abnormal.
I enjoyed each story, but I also had my particular favorites. In "Real Women Have Bodies," women are fading, their skin becoming translucent while the world accepts that this is their fate. In "The Husband Stitch," a woman has given her husband everything he wants except the ribbon around her neck.
"A wife," he says, "should have no secrets from her husband."
"I don't have any secrets," I tell him.
"The ribbon is not a secret; it's just mine."
"Where you born with it? Why your throat? Why is it green?"
I do not answer. He is silent for a long minute. Then, "A wife should have no secrets."
My nose grows hot. I do not want to cry.
"I've given you everything you have ever asked for," I say. "Am I not allowed this one thing?"
"I want to know."
"You think you want to know, " I say, "but you don't."
"Why do you want to hide it from me?"
"I am not hiding it. It just isn't yours."
"Eight Bites" is a story I will reread as a reminder to myself. A woman decides to get bariatric surgery to end her relationship with food but creates a fantastic scenario where the skin she's lost begins to follow her around the house until her death.
I will open my mouth to ask but then realize the question has answered itself: by loving me when I did not love her, by being abandoned by me, she has become immortal. She will touch my cheek like I once did Cal's, so long ago, and there will be no accusation in it. I will curl into her body, which was my body once, but I was a poor caretaker and she was removed from my charge.
Being a woman myself, I feel as though these stories touched me in such a way because I have been unquestionably advanced upon without my consent. If you ask, I am sure, many women will confirm that they've been pulled into the embrace of someone who does not understand why you would ever tell them no. It is this uncomfortable memory that came to mind while reading "Difficult at Parties," where a woman who is trying to recover from a traumatic assault is surrounded by characters will not allow her to because they believe they know what is best for her.
A man in the hallway with buzzed hair and pale skin is holding an ancient camcorder on his shoulder. It is gigantic and the color of tar. He swings it toward me, an eye.
Tell me your name, he says.
I try to pull away, out of his view, but I cannot shrink tightly enough against the wall.
Why is that here? I ask, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
Your name, he repeated, tipping her camera toward me.
There were times while while I was reading when I was utterly confused and disoriented only to find myself sitting up instantly when I crossed over the sentences that finally pulled everything together for me. This is not a collection for everyone. I wish it were. It is graphic and violent, and it fantastically bends genres while still feeling painfully familiar.
I went into this book understanding that parts were going to make me angry and frustrated and embarrassed and uncomfortable, and I feel like I now have the confidence to search and advocate for more books like this while I patiently wait for Machado’s next work.