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 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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
...[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.
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.