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Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

When I finished the short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, it’s like I shivered off a weight that had been pressing down on me. Machado’s words emitted feelings so pervasive that they nearly put me in a trance. The book POSSESSED me, if you will.

She is to writing what David Lynch is to filmmaking: surreal and trying to get to your visceral core while splattering out her own innards.

The stories are weird and beautiful and hilarious and terrifying. They come from a horror angle, from a queer perspective, from a woman’s view on a reality that any other woman would recognize, though the settings are purposefully unreal. She is to writing what David Lynch is to filmmaking: surreal and trying to get to your visceral core while splattering out her own innards. I was nervously laughing at times but then gulping in anticipation. I shuddered occasionally.

When I was about 3/4 through the story “The Resident,” I stepped off a New York City subway car and felt like I was swaying on the platform. I looked around me; everything seemed a little bit sharp and blurry at the same time. Machado's ability to slither into one's brain cannot be overlooked.

Case in point, from “The Resident,”

My body was so cold it felt like it was disappearing at the edges, like my shoreline was evaporating. It was the opposite of pleasure, which had pumped blood through me and warmed my body like the mammal I was. But here, I was just skin, then just muscle, and then merely bone. I felt like my spine was pulling up into my skull, each vertebrae click-click-clicking like a car slowly ascending a rollercoaster’s first hill. 

My hand involuntarily flew to the base of my neck after reading that. The story is about a writer who accepts a residency in a rural area and her stay is an exploration of childhood trauma and what it means to make art. It’s filled with chilling descriptions. Machado’s stories run the gamut of emotions, but that’s what makes each special: they make me feel something. I love writing like this. I love that Machado seems to be the next great horror writer, and while she understands the genres tropes, she’s swiftly moving beyond them, and traveling to unexamined lands.

When I read the story “The Husband Stitch,” years ago (my first taste of Machado), it felt eerily reminiscent of memories that weren’t mine. The well-structured tale felt familiar, almost like it came from the shared consciousness of all women. The terror of many of Machado’s stories is that they also are peppered with humor, and sometimes you don’t know if it’s even okay to laugh. “The Husband Stitch” begins:

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:

Me: as a child, high-pitched, forgettable; as a woman, the same.

The boy who will grow into a man, and be my spouse: robust with his own good fortune.

My father: Like your father, or the man you wish was your father.

My son: as a small child, gentle, rounded with the faintest of lisps; as a man, like my husband.

All other women: interchangeable with my own.)

Each story resonated, though many readers seem to be divided on "Especially Heinous," a story of ten seasons worth of SVU episode recaps, except, it veers very Lovecraft, very Lynch. It’s the longest story in the collection, and wears the reader down, though I think that may be part of the point. Machado’s words glide through you and not until later do you realize what she’s done. If it felt like a slog at some points during “Especially Heinous,” it’s because Machado does so much provocation in a smaller space in her other stories. While reading the story, I kept thinking of watching Twin Peaks last summer, and I was delighted to find out that this collection will be adapted to television, though I don't know quite how they'll do it with some of these. I'll be watching, that's for sure.

I cannot recommend this to everyone; if you don't like weird and quagmirish writing: stay away. If you need stories with pat endings: stay away. If you are into strange tales that you can't quite grasp but love trying to dissect: welcome. These stories inhabited me, and now I must attempt to shake off these Machado vibes (and like that, she's an adjective like The Greats) and dive into something completely different. 

Her Body and Other Parties

By Carmen Maria Machado

248 pages. 2017.

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Jessica Maria
Jessica Maria
Nov 05, 2019

Machado's latest work, a memoir called In the Dream House, is being released in the US on 11/5/19 - tomorrow!

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