Genre : Magical Realism, Horror
Date Published : October 3, 2017
Publisher : Graywolf Press
For my first ever book review for Sister Shelf, I decided to review a short story collection that means a lot to me: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I first picked up this collection in October 2018, right around the time I was getting back into writing short stories myself, and it reopened my eyes to how joyously weird writing can be. When the Feminist Sci Fi Book Club I recently started attending chose this collection as its February 2019 read – the same month Sara and I decided to start this blog – it seemed like the universe was shouting at me: review this strange and unsettling little book!!!
I knew only two things going into this collection: it was supposed to be 1) Super Spooky and 2) Super Queer. Machado did not disappoint. Through the lens of magical realism, Machado explores the many ways in which women’s bodies (in all their forms) are mistreated, exploited, and controlled. The stories in this collection are unique and expansive – a woman inventories her past lovers to keep herself sane during the apocalypse; two women make a baby (or do they…???); an epidemic causes all women on the earth to slowly fade away; and, of course, there’s the 272 (yes, that’s two hundred and seventy two) vignettes inspired by every single episode of Law & Order: SVU.
My favorite story in the collection is “The Husband Stitch” – a retelling of the classic folktale about the girl with the green ribbon around her neck. This story felt like it was being whispered to me by my best friend at a middle school slumber party while I, being the whimp that I am, alternated between telling her to stop when it got too scary and begging her to finish the rest. Machado seamlessly weaves countless fairytales and urban legends into this piece (the hook-handed man, the girl raised by wolves, the girl who dies of fright in cemetery) and by the end they all begin to run together with one common theme: women are punished for simply existing as women.
“He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt. He is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep disservice to him. And yet – ” (The Husband Stitch, p. 30)
On my reread of this collection, what I enjoyed most was the unabashed queerness of each and every story (on the first read, I enjoyed having my pants scared off me!!). The queerness present in Machado’s stories breathes life back into the sometimes unbearably violent collection. For all the horrible and unthinkable things that happen to women in this collection, Machado also gives them the ability to feel pleasure and joy. And, let me tell you, these stories are sexy. Super spooky, yes, but so so sexy (which, honestly, is such a #LifeGoal).
When we discussed this collection at book club in February, our usual hour-long meeting extended to over two hours, and we still had more to talk about. That’s how Her Body and Other Parties leaves me feeling each time I pick it up – that maybe, just maybe, if I read it again I will find some answers to life’s many questions. Or, at the very least, give myself a very good scare.
9 Madwomen in the Attic out of 10.