Her Body and Other Parties Book reviews


Author(s): Carmen Maria MachadoDownload  


In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Some Reviews: 5322 in Goodreads.com

Cindy Pham

Cindy Pham rated it     

A unique, experimental book with lovely writing and provocative content. Each story in this collection forces you to think about its themes and come up with your own interpretation for its message. I had to stop after finishing every story and look it up online to read other people’s reviews and interpretations. I appreciated how every story explored the different and violent ways that women’s bodies are treated, whether that comes from society or themselves. I also appreciated how the author featured lesbian relationships without making them the point of the story – instead they fit into the settings naturally. Like every short story collection, the quality of the work is uneven, especially in terms of how abstract the messages are. Some stories are too vague and confusing for my tastes (like Especially Heinous and Mothers), while others are too obvious in a way that doesn’t match the rest of the work (like Eight Bites). I think the strongest stories are the ones that are right in the middle (like The Husband Stitch and Difficult at Parties) – where it leaves the story up to interpretation but gives you enough to work with. My main gripe is that while the concepts of each story are interesting, they remain only a concept and don’t feel like a finished work – like the beginning of a thesis, but not a concluding thought. That’s probably on purpose, but I think the book would have been much stronger if there were more cohesion. I would be interested to read a full novel by Carmen Machado to see how she would pull off a traditional narrative.

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ rated it     

4.5 stars, because this Nebula-nominated novelette is just so well-wrought and hard-hitting, even though I’m not on board with its worldview.* “The Husband Stitch” is a subtly disturbing, sexually explicit and well-written take on the old horror folk tale about the woman who always wears a ribbon around her neck. Machado weaves together old folk tales, urban legends and some meta aspects, where she addresses the reader directly. It’s pretty brilliant, actually.

This is a strong and overtly feminist tale that takes a very dim view of men generally: men are thoughtlessly manipulative and dismissive of women’s feelings. Even a strong-willed woman, like our narrator, can get worn down by it over time. The stronger your feminist leanings, the more likely you are to appreciate this story. It’s free online at Granta.com.

*Not that I’m against equality, but this story has a serious beef against the male gender generally in our society. While some men would behave in the way the men do in this story, I don’t think it’s fair to paint all men with the same brush.

Content note: strongly explicit sexual content. Definitely not for readers who want clean reads.


Beverly rated it     

A quote from the book that I loved, “god should have made girls lethal when he made monsters of men.–Elizabeth Hewer, was placed before the stories and acts as a theme of sorts.

The first story is a powerful blow to the gut and is a must read, entitled, “The Husband Stitch”. I enjoyed “Inventory”, and “Eight Bites” very much too. The other stories were not quite as enthralling for me, but they are menacing and disquieting. This writer is gifted and has a very distinct voice. The story, “Especially Heinous” was the only humorous one, but I got kind of weary of it and it was the only story I could not finish.

Krista Regester

Krista Regester rated it     

The Husband Stitch 5 stars, A tale of tales, spinning old folk stories throughout one important one. How much can one possibly give to someone before it’s too much? This was beautifully written.

Inventory 5 stars, This was haunting and unique. An apocalyptic story told through each of the narrator’s sexual experiences.

Mothers 3 stars, I’m still a tad perplexed by this one. I wanted to find a clear plot but maybe that’s where I went wrong. It was obvious that the narrator was experiencing a heartbreak that had left her vulnerable and wounded – but I still had many questions when it ended.

Especially Heinous 2 stars, This was not for me. I still have NO clue what happened here. This was other worldly in a confusing way. 272 little blurbs that really never formed a clear story! I found myself skipping through these hoping to dear god that I wouldn’t hear Benson or Stabler’s names one more time. This could have been a cool idea but it didn’t carry over well, especially in audio book format. I couldn’t tell if a new story had started or if the same one was still going!

Real Women Have Bodies 4 stars, I don’t know how Carmen Maria Machado comes up with these incredible ideas! This was raw, broken, and disturbing. The idea of just slowly fading away and not having control over your body, is terrifying.

Eight Bites 3 stars, I think that deciding to modify your body in anyway is an extremely difficult and personal decision. So.. why was she so worried about everyone’s opinion on the matter?! The ending was the best part and I almost wish that could have been more of the focus of the story.

The Resident 3 stars, There was some really good imagery in this one, but it kind of fell flat for me.

Difficult At Parties 5 stars, Don’t we all want to know what everyone else is thinking? How about during sex? Ahh yes please.


Trudie rated it      

Going into this I was not at all sure I would enjoy it. Novels generally appeal to me rather than a short story collection and anything labelled fabulist or absurdist has me wary. However, I am always pleased to find my preconceptions proved wrong. Within a few pages I knew I loved this. Machado’s writing is electric, unapologetically weird and visceral while also feeling on point with the current #MeToo zeitegist.

This is essentially a collection of contemporary fairy tales, the same sense of creepy, inexplicable horror that I get from reading Grimm’s stories also seeps out from these pages. Yet the sex in these tales, unlike Grimm, is frank, wild and at times explicit. These stories really grab you up, spin you around and spit you back out. I loved the experience, though I doubt it is a collection for everyone.

Three stories in particular lodged in my brain. The first story, The Husband Stitch is arguably the best of the collection. It comes hurtling at you, deliciously subversive, unapologetically sexual and dark. It jolted me awake and I was ready for more. The Mothers and Especially Heinous both frustrated me at first, mostly as I had no idea what was going on. But Machado’s use of language is so absorbing, things are tantalising eluded to but not made explicit. Like Sherlock Holmes I found myself combing back over the story searching for clues and joining my own threads of meaning together.

I am really quite taken with this author and her short story collection. The writing, which I concede could be polarising for some, feels fresh, lively and bold. It is surreal and layered and yet still rooted in the requirement (at least for me) to tell a good story.
If this is a debut offering I am first in line for whatever else Machado decides to write.


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