Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

By Abeer Hoque

Her Body and Other Parties is Carmen Maria Machado’s brilliant first book, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Awards. It is a collection of dark, beautiful (and sometimes supernatural) stories about women. Machado’s prose is stunning and erotic, her themes sharp and femme, the style wildly different from one story to the next. The potential of each story to veer off into sci-fi territory was a little startling. I got used to it, and eventually I started looking forward to it.  The first story in the book, “The Husband Stitch,” is a bang on introduction to Machado’s mash up brand of psychological and speculative fiction.

Many of the stories had lesbian love themes, which I don’t get enough of in our heteronormative world. In the stories with heterosexual relationships, I was felled by how limiting and cruel and patriarchal the world is to women. Machado nails it: “She’s like dough, how the give of it beneath kneading hands disguises its sturdiness, its potential.” But no matter the plot line or predilection, the overarching story was women. One of my favorite pieces “Real Women Have Bodies” is the story of a shop selling prom dresses amid a strange epidemic, which acts as a metaphor for the silencing of women. The writing at the beginning of this story was especially delicious. I would read catalogue after catalogue if Machado were writing the copy: “She looks like she’s battling a giant prom monster – all petticoat undersides and rhinestone tentacles.” The story “Eight Bites” discusses one of the most destruction social conditions of femalehood – those prescribing body image and weight. And the story “Mothers” described a violent lesbian relationship, while exploring themes of motherhood and abuse.

Machado is an assured storyteller, confident and knowing and piercing. I especially loved the sexiness and physicality of the stories. It was visceral and refreshing and unabashed. But it’s her writing that takes the cake – it’s some of the best I’ve ever read and I would happily read anything else she takes on, no matter the genre or topic. Her Body and Other Parties is a wild ride about the human female condition. I highly recommend it. 

Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977887