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Monday, February 26, 2018

Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado's collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties, was a National Book Award nominee. I found it to be strong and also a harbinger of what is to come in the literature written by LGBT writers, and that's a good thing. As a 56-year-old reader, I applaud that, as my own expectations need to be challenged. For example, a story begins with a narrator referring to a wife. I assumed the story was being narrated by a man. Wrong!

Their are eight stories within, beginning with "The Husband Stitch," which is an odd, wonderful story about a woman who is very horny and gets married (to a man), but has a mysterious ribbon around her neck. We are warned, "Brides never fare well in stories. Stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle." The story also gives instructions to the reader that are fairly elaborate. You don't actually follow the instructions, but you might in your head.

"Inventory" is a woman's inventory of her life, but set against a civilization-ending plague of some sort. "Real Women Have Bodies" is set during a mysterious plague that makes women fade until they are incorporeal. "Mothers" has a young woman dropping off her baby with her ex-lover for her to raise.

It seems all writers have a story about staying at a writer's colony, and Machado does with "The Resident," but given Machado's interesting style this one is different from all others I've read.

The one story I had trouble with is "Especially Heinous," which is a parody of Law and Order: SVU. Machado writes episode summaries for several seasons worth of the show. While some of them are funny: "Benson gets the flu. She vomits up: spinach, paint shavings, half a golf pencil, and a single bell the size of her pinky nail," the thing drags on way too long, well past the point someone could say, "I get it."

But Machado is a terrific stylist, with some great turns of phrase with exquisite details: "He got angry and left, slamming the screen door so hard my spice rack jumped from its nail and crashed to the
floor. My dog lapped up the nutmeg, and I had to force-feed him salt to make him throw up." Or: "Her hair grayed at the temples and the way she laughed tripped pleasure down the stairs of my heart."

I will be interested to see what Machado does next. Perhaps she is working on a novel, and I would love to read it.

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