Carmen Maria Machado – Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body

 

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Although I have stated it before, I will state it again: generally I do not like short stories because I find them inconsistent. Thankfully Carmen Maria Machado’s collection kept my attention all throughout, bar one story (more of that later). In many cases I was amazed at all the ideas.

Machado’s stories, as stated in the title, focuses on the body, in particular the female body. Within these stories the body either fades away, develops boils, gets operated on or has some secrets. Despite the fact that there is a universal theme, Machado has wildly creative ways of displaying the importance of the female form. Such examples are The Husband’s Stitch, which is an updated version of a campfire story dealing with a woman who keeps a ribbon around her neck at all times or Real Women Have Bodies, where the body loses its permanence or Inventory where a woman makes a list of all the people she has loved or used her body in different ways and vice versa.

The one story, and my personal favourite, which encapsulates Machado’s main theme is Eight Bites, a fantastic piece about a woman who undergoes an operation to eat less. Maybe my interpretation is not correct, but I saw this story as a commentary on dieting culture. How we are obsessed with body image and the lengths people go to maintain a slim figure. It’s disturbing but it is a fairly realistic look at what is happening today.

There’s also a meta element to some of the stories, with The Resident being the most obvious one: A novelist takes up a residency at a sort of artists commune/hotel in the middle of nowhere, only to discover that the art world is constrictive and dangerous. In order to break free the writer undertakes a decision to give up writing, which is ironic as, obviously all the women breaking free in this collection are doing so in written word.

All these stories contain some type of surreal element which keeps the reader turning pages in order to see how far an idea can go, the post apocalyptic story Mothers is Machado at her most creative. Needless to say that the writing is also first class. Descriptions just flow and despite a lot of the ugliness that permeates these stories, there is a certain undefinable beauty in Machado’s use of similes and metaphors that captivate.

I did mention earlier that there was one story which I did not like which was Especially Heinous, a parody of Law and Order: SVU, a show I’ve never watched so this story was lost on me, this is more of a case of my ignorance but it does pay to have a background knowledge of the show.

For a person who does not like short stories, I was won over by Her Body and Other Parties, so that’s a good thing. Machado tackles topical issues with panache and style plus there’s enough quirky and inventive bits to keep the stories lasting quite a while. A unique voice that cannot be ignored

 

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