Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, is a love letter to an obstinate genre that won’t be gentrified. It’s a wild thing, this book, covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi, and borrowing from science fiction, queer theory and horror ... Machado is fluent in the vocabulary of fairy tales—her stories are full of foxes, foundlings, nooses and gowns—but she remixes it to her own ends. Her fiction is both matter-of-factly and gorgeously queer. She writes about loving and living with women and men with such heat and specificity that it feels revelatory ... But if Machado is strong on pleasure, she’s better on despair, on our rage at our bodies—for their ugliness and unruliness, their excess and inadequacy and, worst of all, their temerity to abandon us altogether ... We see what her characters cannot—that some of the scariest monsters come from within. And learning to identify what to fear, and to fear the right things, can be a kind of power.
Written in prose so textured that you want to rub her phrases between your fingertips ... A muscular strain of feminism runs through this book, whose contemplation of the female body is bound up in sex, power, pleasure, pain, and the fitful struggle against self-loathing. Rarely is a writer as skilled as Machado at evoking corporeality: the myriad sensations of inhabiting flesh and bone, with all its messiness and ecstasies. Sex plays a major part in these stories, and she excels at potent depictions that sidestep the ick factor so many authors find difficult to avoid ... This is what she does best, and she does it again and again in this collection: blend disparate, jostling elements to achieve a ferocious alchemy.
The collection is that hallowed thing: an example of almost preposterous talent that also encapsulates something vital but previously diffuse about the moment...This is bodily fiction, written for and within a culture that’s rediscovering the body: through today’s feminism, with its new frankness about women’s bodies (as when legions of women called Mike Pence to tell him about their periods) and through the broader cultural shift toward valuing the experience of the body in the moment ... In Machado’s stories, reclaiming the female body doesn’t mean ignoring the damage so often done to it but rather subverting the narrative that allows this damage to define the body ... Machado is a master of such pointed formal play, of queering genre and the supposed laws of reality to present alternative possibilities ... Machado reveals just how original, subversive, proud and joyful it can be to write from deep in the gut, even — especially — if the gut has been bruised.
In her twistedly original and thrilling debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blends both the terrifying and the horrible into a psychologically realistic and darkly comic mixture … Time and again, Machado freaks the reader out while making them think. Her work calls to mind other stellar practitioners of this kind of literary horror and speculative-gothic genre-bending, including Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link and Sofia Samatar. Yet her voice and her sensibility seem singularly her own … By honing in on the grotesquerie and uncanniness of such familiar things as bariatric surgery, pornography, motherhood, women's clothing stores and Girl Scout camps, to name a few, Machado discloses and critiques the threats and exploitations inherent in capitalism and the patriarchy, while above all weaving narratives that refuse to be put down.
Her Body and Other Parties — just announced as a finalist for the National Book Award — is an abrupt, original, and wild collection of stories, full of outlandish myths that somehow catch at familiar, unspoken truths about being women in the world that more straightforward or realist writing wouldn't … Though Machado has obviously been influenced by the reworked fairy tales of Angela Carter, she seems to draw on a different canon, namely that mix of urban legend and erotica that flourished in women's online writing (LiveJournal, Tumblr) a decade ago and rarely gets fancy literary attention … Lydia's implicit question in the title story is, doesn't writing about women's preoccupation with their bodies somehow devalue them? Machado seems to answer: The world makes madwomen, and the least you can do is make sure the attic is your own.
In eight searingly original stories, Machado uses the literary techniques of horror and science fiction to expose the truth about our modern parables: that they’re as grotesque and enchanting as any classic fairy tale ... Machado brushes past taboo to treat women’s sexuality with frankness and lyricism. Many of the desires pulsing through the collection, as well as its most poignant love stories, are queer ... These daring stories are deeply feminist, but never dogmatically so, slipping into the murky places where we begin to fear our desires and desire what we fear. They suggest that the deeper we venture into our own psyches, the less—and less clearly—we are able to see ... As the speaker says in 'The Husband Stitch,' Machado’s 'may not be the version of the story you’re familiar with. But I assure you, it’s the one you need to know.'
As with [Angela] Carter’s reconfigurations, Ms. Machado’s stories are frank, sensual, often raunchy. The mythologies they mean to dispel concern the female body and the ways that it’s used, molded, mutilated, coveted, stigmatized or disregarded. Hidden within these objectified forms are the women’s true selves, made of forbidden secrets and unruly desires ... In the life cycle of an idea, something that was initially subversive is rapidly absorbed into the public consciousness and converted into yet another convention. 'Do you ever worry about writing the madwoman-in-the-attic story?' a fellow writer asks the narrator. That 'old trope' shadows the book, and related themes, like sexual trauma and dystopian horror, have had their edges softened by constant use. Ms. Machado’s best stories—'The Husband Stitch' and 'Real Women Have Bodies'—deliver high-voltage shocks to the system. The others show how difficult it is to outpace the status quo.
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, makes impossible things feel enchantingly, troublingly real … The book abounds with fantastical premises that ring true because the intensity of sexual desire, the mutability of the body, and the realities of gender inequality make them so … Though the stories draw on elements of horror fiction, they’re fueled by tenderness rather than cruelty, and the imagery is beautiful, not grotesque.
Though sketched with the lineaments of horror, these stories strive not to reheat cold psychopathies, but to gently reflect back the kinds of fears, passions, and persuasions that aren’t often coaxed to the surface, because they almost go without saying. Or could — especially if you happen to be a woman with a body...Machado’s eight creepily poignant stories, many of which are stained with supernatural elements, are much more given to portraying ghosts than monsters ...has already emerged a master of several beloved genres (horror, fantasy, magical realism), combined with a varied, empathetic exploration of female embodiment, in particular physical and emotional threats (mostly from men), sexual pleasure (mostly from women), disordered eating and other illnesses, and child-bearing.
I casually opened her collection Her Body and Other Parties, and it lit me on fire. I’ve experienced this with only a handful of writers—Diane Cook and Leanne Shapton among them—whose creativity and language are fearless and whose images are so specific and unusual that they carry heavier metaphorical resonance than something more homogenized ... Themes of lovers succumbing to mysterious ailments and the conflicts between those lovers—husbands and wives, or wives and wives—repeat throughout the collection. There’s a motif of people having sex in every room of a home, or on the floor of an empty house.
Machado skillfully handles the introduction of these elements, pacing her stories in a way that destabilizes the reader’s sense of what’s real: just when the world seems comprehensible, the ground shifts beneath our feet, deepening and complicating our understanding of the characters, their motives, and their lives. The genres Machado draws on have not traditionally been hospitable to women (much less queer ones): scholarship on both fairy tales and horror have long pointed out these narratives often punish women for deviations from normative gender roles and reward only those who are pure and obedient. Part of what makes Her Body and Other Parties so exciting is Machado’s negotiation of this legacy. She understands the pleasures we derive from experiencing the uncanny, the horrific, and the fantastic, and knows exactly how to generate those sensations in her reader. At the same time, her writing rejects the strictures these traditions have placed on representations of women ... Reminiscent of the work of Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Kelly Link, and Mariana Enriquez, Machado remixes strands of myth, horror, and pop culture and gives us something uniquely her own. Her Body and Other Parties is as much a thrilling reading experience as it is a powerful and important exploration of women’s lives.
Machado is refreshingly frank, not only about the enjoyment of sex, but also about its physicality ... The lived reality of womanhood is so often surreal, marked by a constant vacillation between authority and acquiescence, reverence and monstrousness, that it makes sense the way to process it would be through genre fiction, whether the genre be horror, science fiction, or fantasy. With this collection, Machado joins the ranks of Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alexandra Kleeman, writers who work towards a feminist aesthetic both by using and subverting genre conventions. Her Body and Other Parties is a masterful assemblage of tales that is at once luminous and dingy, sexy and terrifying, queer and mundane. These wondrous stories remind readers not only that the lives of women are full of paradoxes and contradictions, but that fiction as an endeavor is especially powerful when it takes as its task the examination of these ambiguities.
Reading it is a heady and unnerving, sometimes horrifying, experience that opens up human identity as if it were a flower. From the dark corners of existence, from the cracks between pretensions, Machado conjures monsters and angels that, in the light of her deft yet sensuous prose, become painfully recognizable ... Machado melds folklore and fabulist images with the raw realities of love, sex, queerness and alienation, forging a poetic sensibility that's full and alive with possibilities in a way that narrower realism could never match ... Her Body and Other Parties has so many beautiful lines and sophisticated passages that it would be hard to highlight them all. More importantly, though, it demonstrates that literature, when forthright and brave, can simultaneously dig deep within the self and reframe the greater world.
Carmen Maria Machado is the best writer of cognitive dysphoria I’ve read in years ... Her collection reads like someone trying to list every possibly nuance of physical failure: plagues, environmental collapse, madness, terminal illness. She gives us woman after woman who could star in their own books ... Obviously, I loved this book. And if you love intricate, weird writing, skewed fairytales, Law & Order, queerness, complex female characters, and emotionally vital writing that might cause nightmares, you will find something to love, too ... Across the span of the book, people are filmed without their consent, asked to give up names and secrets, hit, thrown across rooms. Always Machado comes back to the idea that violation is constant, and that each one, from the tiny unthinking questions all the way up to rape, are horrific acts ... Did I mention that this book is gleefully, relentlessly queer? Because there’s that, too. In my reading life as in my real life, I try to be open to everyone’s stories, but it is a relief to relax into a book knowing that the queer women are going to be real characters, not clichés or pastiches of male gaze.
Her Body and Other Parties features eight stories that manage to be both eerily familiar and also unlike anything you’ve ever read, refurbishing tropes from science fiction, fairy tale, and Law & Order: SVU with formal innovations and psychological insights that make them feel genuinely new ...Machado explores the pleasures and perils of the flesh.
Carmen Maria Machado’s collection Her Body and Other Parties has hit at a particularly potent moment of cultural reckoning over women, sexual violence, and the horror stories women tell — or are told about them ...mixes urban legend, classic horror stories, and tales of the apocalypse, among other genres, to create fictional realities just a shade away from the current madness ... Giving ghostly form to our anxieties about the female body, beauty, lust, and power, Machado’s stories feature women stricken by a plague that makes them fade away into imperceptibility, or haunted by the fat they’d hoped to shed ... Her characters tend to be sexually fluid, nonchalantly attracted to both men and women, and lacking any sense of trauma tied to queer identity. Their encounters are detailed in lush prose that picks up the push-and-pull rhythms of a pleasurable encounter...these stories act as invitations for further imaginings.
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 ... 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.
Machado’s particular genius is to remove the safety net readers expect. In the eight stories that make up this brilliant and unsettling debut, the world of women and their bodies — both the delights they provide and the dangers they encounter — is presented coolly, with no promise that the writer’s protagonists will live happily ever after … Machado’s narrators are articulate and thoughtful, with vivid internal lives. But she’s sharp enough at capturing the messiness of ordinary human behaviour to distinguish one character from the next, keeping the stories distinct and marking each with flares of stark beauty … The stories in Her Body and Other Parties, on the vulnerability and the appetites of women, their transgressions and their disappearances, have the depth of fairy tales and the grim acid rasp of the best horror fiction.
...the reader is instructed to use a voice 'interchangeable' with the one they use for the narrator. This dynamic largely shapes the book, as Machado and her narrators recognize and battle against the heteropatriarchal structures that have tried to shape their lives ... In Her Body and Other Parties, Machado draws the reader in with her formal experimentation and fantastical premise. While these methods are imaginative and surprising and effective, the weight of the book comes from her evocative portrayal of the banal atrocities that women (and queer women in particular) face every day ... Machado also successfully reinterprets existing narratives, storylines and characters into something much more haunting... Few writers are as evocative and effective as Machado is...an artful powerhouse and a writing textbook rolled into one. It is fearsome and fearless. It is a book that won’t be forgotten.
Her Body & Other Parties is a group of modern fables that merge horror, fantasy, science fiction, magic realism, and fairy tale and explore the violence visited on women’s bodies … The eight stories in the book touch on topics including sexual violence, fat bodies, queer history, erotica, and domestic abuse. They form a profound, sensual, unsettling collection about what it means to be a woman and inhabit a body in this world. Machado reads like a millennial blend of Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, and Nell Zink.
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, brilliantly continues Carter’s and Link’s tradition of literary fabulism. In line with the relationship Link proposes between the inherent intertextuality of fantastical literature, it’s also a Pandora’s box of bold re-thinkings of the short story form … Her Body and Other Parties also addresses the ways women’s lives have been and continue to be constrained by narratives that consign disobedient or unmanageable women to categories of madness or monstrosity … Formally daring, achingly moving, wildly weird, and startling in its visceral and aesthetic impact, Machado’s work is unlike any other.
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short-story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, reveals a new herald for the New Weird, marking Machado as one of the genre’s foremost voices... Machado’s tales rejoice in the body and its pleasures, embracing sex as weird, arousing, messy, yet altogether human ... With her debut collection, she molds genre, form, tone, and subject like a master of the craft, wielding the most beautiful, haunting prose this year ... With stories like these, Machado’s oeuvre simultaneously defies and attracts categorization ... Machado is a revolution. She is at once a funny, dark, terrifying, uplifting anti-Lovecraft who observes in the everyday oppressions of heteropatriarchy and late capitalism what is truly horrifying, nonetheless finding release in the dark’s nooks and crannies.
This collection of stories utilizes elements of gothic, speculative, and horror fiction to examine life in a female body and its relationship to sex, food, disease, and the supernatural … Machado’s use of horror amplifies the bizarre pains, joys, and restrictions women face … In Machado’s work, emotions materialize and materials become embedded with emotions. She also has a fascination with pandemics, which she explores in not just ‘Real Women Have Bodies’ but elsewhere … By taking to its ultimate (and extreme) conclusion the significance of inhabiting a female body, Machado makes the supernatural and madness feel eerily familiar.
We live in a sexist world — and sexism engenders sexual assault, body shaming, and silencing of women. These are among the harms Machado exposes in these artfully structured stories, in language that is often bizarrely beautiful. It’s a vibrant collection that presents women in their vulnerabilities and strengths in relationships with men, in relationships with other women, and in reflection upon their own bodies as they sort through the social conventions that have long stifled their full expression of self … While Machado plays with form — scaffolding a story on a collection of urban myths (‘The Husband Stitch’), cataloging of sexual and love encounters as a means of measuring the progress of a virus that is decimating the country (‘Inventory’), replotting five seasons of Law and Order episodes (‘Especially Heinous’), she slays with language.
Although not all the stories in Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties reach the accumulative electricity of its first tale, 'The Husband Stitch,' this is not uncommon in a short fiction collection; it also has a lot to do with the fact that this particular story is just so darn good ... All this talk of the body leads me to another thing that’s refreshing about her stories: yes, sex—ugly, beautiful, un-airbrushed intercourse...highlights a haunting conclusion that Machado leaves us with: that we are all simultaneously both mother and daughter, creator and created, container and contained, attic and mad woman.
The women of Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection Her Body and Other Parties are haunted, invisible, stitched together, loved, in love, alone, dead, and alive at the end of the world ...a queer feminist reboot of familiar narratives, a kind of thoughtful pastiche of fairy tales and ghost stories, with urban legends, science fiction, and Law & Order added for appealing effect ...thrilling and page-turning, smart and fearless, and very likely the best book of the year ... The eight stories that compose Machado’s book all tell the tale of women grappling with their identities and bodies, often haunted by both ... Machado is a natural storyteller; she conjures up ghosts and monsters with the same dizzying ease that she depicts both loneliness and vibrant sexuality.
Her [Machado's] work is brazenly unapologetic, or perhaps unapologetically brazen. Her fearlessness, combined with some spellbinding writing, delivers stories that are at once discomfiting and revelatory ... There is something fantastic in each of these stories, less magical realism than the physical embodiment of an otherworldly dread ... Except for 'Heinous,' all the stories are in first-person, and Machado never puts names to her narrators. The closest she comes is in 'The Resident,' which feels the most autobiographical of the stories ...tightly wrapped fiction. Plus, it offers her readers time to come up for air before plunging into the next intense tale.
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is compelling, gloriously weird, and, though some of the narrators are occasionally deeply frightened, the stories collected are nothing less than fearless. Genre and gender bending, erudite and steamy, Machado’s stories manage to defy expectation and be compulsively readable ...dark and fabulous tales, hypnotic and throbbing, stories that somehow both celebrate female sexuality and yet make the reader constantly uncomfortable, voyeurs peering too close at another’s desperate intimacy ...they launch the reader into a realm rarely seen in fiction, and the journey, at times discomfiting, is always exhilarating.
...[an] inventive, sensual, and eerie debut horror collection ... The writing is always lyrical, the narration refreshingly direct, and the sex abundant, and although the supernatural elements are not overt, every story is terrifying. These weird tales present a slightly askew version of the world as we know it and force us, no matter our gender, to reconsider our current life choices and relationships. Readers of authors as varied as Roxane Gay, Jeff VanderMeer, and Karen Russell will find much to enjoy here.
...there is a surprising amount of heterosexuality described here, even celebrated ... Readers waiting for indictments of the patriarchy, or even a single oppressive male character, will have to contain their disappointment (there are some oppressive male presences on page 195, but subsumed into metaphor ... There’s great skill in the way Machado nudges stories into genre without losing the wider implications of their openings. Sometimes she nudges a story back again, or leaves it balanced on the boundary, poised like a sleepwalker on a windowledge ... Though the trick of finessing frisson and anticlimax goes back at least as far as Northanger Abbey, Machado’s control is remarkable. The stream of genre cues never lets up, without quite tipping over into definitely supernatural territory ... Where Angela Carter gave a new voice to her source material, Machado seems to be dancing on the grave of oral culture. Or perhaps Machado has substituted a new goal for the Jungian ‘subtle rightness’ proposed by von Franz’s The Feminine in Fairytales as the goal of female individuation – call it a subtle wrongness.
Each of the stories in this collection has, at its center, a strange and surprising idea that communicates, in a shockingly visceral way, the experience of living inside a woman's body ... The fierceness and abundance of sex and desire in these stories, the way emotion is inextricably connected with the concerns of the body, makes even the most outlandish imaginings strangely familiar. Machado writes with furious grace. She plays with form and expectation in ways that are both funny and elegant but never obscure. 'If you are reading this story out loud,' one story suggests, 'give a paring knife to the listeners and ask them to cut the tender flap of skin between your index finger and thumb.' With Machado’s skill, this feels not like a quirk or a flourish but like a perfectly appropriate direction. An exceptional and pungently inventive first book.
Machado creates eerie, inventive worlds shimmering with supernatural swerves in this engrossing debut collection. Her stories make strikingly feminist moves by combining elements of horror and speculative fiction with women’s everyday crises. Machado builds entire interior lives through sparse and minor details, turning even litanies of refrigerator contents and free-association on the coming of autumn into memorable meditations on identity and female disempowerment ... Machado’s slightly slanted world echoes our own in ways that will entertain, challenge, and move readers.