REVIEW: Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

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.

Her Body and Other Parties is a deeply impactful read and the stories within it are certain to stay with the reader for a long time after they close its pages. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, as this is the only other book that has left me feeling this kind of way - is it hollow, is it horrified? I really don't know. 
The first story, The Husband Stitch, is the one that resonated the most with me out of all of the ones included, which I think was aided by the fact that it struck me as a modern-day version of the folklore tale of Melusine. In the tale that first appeared in the mid-to-late 1300, Melusine is a water spirit whose only request to her husband is to be left alone every month to bathe, whereas in Carmen Maria Machado’s The Husband Stitch, the woman's only wish is for her husband not to touch the ribbon tied around her neck. Both men fail at fulfilling the desire and I can’t help but wonder what that says about how much the ownership of women’s bodies, as well as the relationship between men and women, has changed in nearly 700 years. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
The other successes of the collection are Inventory, Real Women Have Bodies, Eight Bites, and Difficult at Parties but, like the majority of short story anthologies it played a host to a couple of weaker stories. Mothers, one of the earliest in the collection, is one whose point went completely over my head. Honestly, I have re-read it around four times now and, though the writing is absolutely gorgeous, I still do not have the foggiest clue about what the majority of the tale is about. But, by far, the biggest disappointed was Especially Heinous, otherwise known as the Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit story and the one that I actually went into Her Body and Other Parties dying to read. 
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love crime shows - Criminal Minds, Bones, but SVU especially. My grandma and I have actually managed the mammoth task of watching every single episode of the show’s mammoth 19 seasons, but that did not mean that this story made anymore sense to me. Honestly, it was a major disappointed and actually read a quite a lot like fan fiction, which is something I mention primarily because of the story’s choice to romantically pair Olivia up with both the DA and Stabler (both of which have been shipped heavily by fans of the show) at various points in this mishmash of episode synopses. 
Overall, this was an incredibly thought-provoking and sometimes rather harrowing, collection of stories and one that, no matter whether I understood what was going on or not, let me feeling some kind of way. Carmen Maria Machado’s voice is rich and haunting and unique, and one that I definitely want to hear more from in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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