Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press, October 2017
248 pages / Amazon
In her compilation of eight thought-provoking narratives, presented in a refreshing variety of formats, Carmen Maria Machado explores the possibilities of several realms with Her Body and Other Parties. A small cabin situated in vast, cloudy forest. An escape provided by a passenger’s seat out of an unwelcoming party. Long shifts at a colorless merchandising position. Across these situations and more, we are thrown into the bodies of women who are faced with every disagreeable part of themselves and the realities they walk in.
In her first story, “The Husband Stitch,” a girl of seventeen is met with the man she will come to give almost her entire self to. Through animal acts of intercourse, the commitment of marriage, and otherwise untold secrets, she becomes his, all except for the green ribbon secured taut around her neck. In viewing this relationship, not only do we find ourselves, as readers, wondering what the meaning behind the scarf is for this character, but we are forced to contemplate the internal possessions we tend to keep for ourselves in our own lives, even from the clutches of love. What secrets, what trepidations, tie us to our own independence? And if we unraveled them, this story asks us, who would we belong to then?
In another story, “Real Women Have Bodies,” a condition almost resembling chronic disease sweeps over the bodies of women in an apocalyptic-world-type setting. Symptoms capable of turning women into literal air force readers to rethink the definition of substance, and ultimately stumble over words such as “taper” and “reduce” in the context of body image.
Another physique-troubled reality surfaces in the sixth of the collection, called “Eight Bites.” In this reality, women are provided with an opportunity of surgery as an alternative to practicing self-restraint at the dining table. The narrator, a sister of four, remains the last of the women in her family to not have undergone the procedure. As she grapples with the decision to take the “easy” path in acquiring the seemingly perfect figure, we confront a part of ourselves, as the narrator comes face-to-face with her own less ideal identity, and contemplate the necessity of our more flawed selves as a part of our whole.
In nearly all of her stories there are constants such as the presence of a lover which the narrator latches onto for salvation, the loss of a loved one, and each woman’s uncertainty of self. These parallel features feed into the impression of distinct stories uniting as one uniform work of art. Through her honest and, often times, unsettling collection of realities which are much like our own in undeniable ways, Machado writes fear, desire, and all dark human emotions outside of her characters, turning them into tangible substance. In the form of a scarf, in narrative voices out of a sex film, in walking ghosts, and in a handful of emblems, inner struggles become impossible to ignore, and we discover that our worlds come crashing down in the face of these unveilings.
Machado writes these twisted realities in a number of refreshing formats and conveys intimate feelings in an unexplored fashion, making it the perfect work for any writer to explore, as it asks us to question the limits of our creativity. Furthermore, her consistent theme of tragedy and chaos, both internal and external, makes this a must-read for any man or woman who wants to explore the profundity of an unhinged soul, and perhaps read into their own deepest insecurities.