I read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado a couple of months ago. I was going to post a video about this collection of short stories, but instead I decided to make a blog post. I’ll be honest: I don’t have the time to edit and upload videos and, while I enjoyed the videos, writing comes more naturally to me.
The cool thing about reviewing a book months after I read it is that I get to feel what has really stuck with me and, with this book, it wasn’t what I expected.
A Collection of Shorts
Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of short stories. Collections are always a risk because readers can like some stories and hate others, which leads to lukewarm reviews. In a novel, even if a reader doesn’t like a chapter or two, they are less likely to dislike the whole novel because of those parts.
This is definitely something I saw in reviews of Her Body and Other Parties. I had just finished reading In the Dreamhouse, which had amazing reviews (and was an amazing book), and I was a little shocked at the tepidness of the reviews for Her Body and Other Parties. Almost every review I watched or read said it was a book that had a few good stories while the rest were mediocre.
After reading the book, I was a bit crushed by these tepid reviews. Machado identifies as a fat bisexual. This is a perspective I don’t see a lot in writing, and it has been refreshing to experience a bit of myself in stories. Almost every story in this book featured some aspect of queerness or fatness and, for that alone, I loved all the stories.
While all of the stories had something interesting to offer, the following were my favorites.
The Husband Stitch
This retelling of the urban legend of the green ribbon is probably everyone’s favorite story from the book. The story was nominated for the Shirley Jackson and Nebula Awards, awarded a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, and longlisted for the Tiptree Award. That is a lot of love for a single story, but there is good reason for it.
The story follows a young girl who falls in love, gets married, has a child, and many happy years later, dies. Simple. Except she has a piece of herself she never gives her husband. Or her son. Or anyone. Because it is hers. Her green ribbon.
What is probably best about this story are the many other fairy tales and urban legends wrapped into it. The narrator continually tells the reader twisted urban legends, as if she knows that she is an urban legend. It creates an eerie, surreal experience.
This story is a sort of post-apocalypse love-story where the MC falls in love with herself. The main character falls into the habit of taking inventory of what she has, as one does when they are at constant risk of death. The story comes when she starts to take inventory of past lovers, which allows her to tell her life story while… well, I don’t want to give away the end.
This one really spoke to me. I have a terrible memory, but lovers leave a mark on me that makes them hard to forget. They get under one’s skin (literally?). So using lovers to remember my past is something I do. My whole life can be told in chunks of lovers, relationships, one-night-stands. I strongly identified with this character and… well, yay for bi representation!
Real Women Have Bodies
This is another one because it is bi rep, and I believe the MC is fat. (I cannot quite remember, but I think she was at least curvy?).
The story follows a girl living in a desolate society, selling dresses in a shop to make ends meet. But something isn’t quite right about the dresses. At the same time, women and girls are slowly fading away. Disappearing into nothingness. During the story the MC falls in love with the dressmaker’s daughter and together they face the possibility that any morning, one of them could start to disappear.
I don’t know why this one stuck out to me so much. Perhaps because I identify with the threat of disappearing, as most women can.
Eight Bites is a look at bariatric surgery, but it is much more. It is an examination of being fat and fat acceptance. It brings up important issues such as how a fat person hating their body can affect their fat children.
As someone who is fat, this one hit a lot of nerves. I will admit I didn’t really like the message – that we simply need to accept ourselves. Because that is never simple. But I did like the close, intimate examination of self-loathing, the relationship with food, and the fat self. Again, I don’t want to give things away, but this is definitely worth a read.
The entire book held Carmen Maria Machado’s tone, which can at times feel distant for some people, but for me is highly relatable. Especially when emotions get intense, to write clearly and without drama can be refreshing.