“I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.”― Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
I’ve been on a short story kick. Maybe it’s because my schedule has been rattled by final exams and new opportunities, and my time and attention span for reading has been gutted. Diving into something I can reasonably start and finish within an hour has provided immense satisfaction, at least, which is how I reminded myself to pick up Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties.”
I had read “The Husband Stitch,” one of the stories featured in the collection, sometime last year. An adaptation of the classic tale about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck, the narrative follows a nameless woman through love, marriage, childbirth, and more, with all her years adorned by green silk wound neatly around her neck. Rife with urban legends, eroticism, and irresistible language, the story serves as a cautionary tale for what it means to be a woman.
Its name alone suggests horror: the extra stitch after childbirth to repair an episiotomy to assure you’re still appealing to your spouse. “Nice and tight, everyone’s happy,” the doctor says to the narrator, once she returns to reality after a long, dark stint in the inky, oily blackness of sedation, where she had been stripped of her agency and consent. It’s enough to make the skin crawl, to demand the stitch be torn, if only to pick up the pieces of what’s happened and tape them together into something resembling control.
To further her point, Machado includes stage cues throughout the story, such as: “If you are reading this story out loud, give a paring knife to the listener and ask them to cut the tender flap of skin between your index finger and thumb. Afterwards, thank them.”
While, in my opinion, “The Husband Stitch” is the crowning narrative in the collection, the rest are wildly ambitious and experimental, and incredibly daring. In my second favorite, “Mothers,” two women make a baby together, or so it seems. It’s a tale of dreams and what-ifs, and Machado manages to drag you along with her narrator’s visions of the future through a life in the Indiana woods, one whose pleasant domesticism overshadows its own reality of abuse, neglect, and an inevitably lonely end.
After that, you’ll have to read through “Especially Heinous,” in which Machado lists “272 Views of Law & Order: SVU,” each with plots of her own design. My personal favorite was titled “Beef,” with the compelling tagline: “The hamburger doesn’t give a fuck who it kills.” The entire story is a darkly fun, critical look at the penchant for primetime television to sensationalize sexual assault and violence. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did, but I find myself thinking back to it often, laughing quietly to myself, making nearby strangers shift away.
Overall, I suggest adding this book to your collection for a number of reasons: It’s full of horror, but in a complicated, quasi-comforting way. It puts the spotlight on familiar terrors, all with new and eccentric spins to them, and it teaches you to hold their hand and ask them to tell you more.
I found, while reading through this book, that I wanted to be uncomfortable. I wanted to pull all the monsters out of their little boxes, or their dark corners, or the places they had been stitched into a woman’s dress and challenge them, give them names. “Many people live and die without ever confronting themselves in the darkness,” Machado writes, and that is a fact that stands out throughout this collection.
Sarah is the Arts & Culture Editor and a writer for the Seattle Collegian, as well as a student of Seattle Central College, and intends to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing once finished with her BA. She has a deep fascination, bordering on obsession, with all the many things that make us human and the conditions and complexities therein, and tends to lean into these in her writing. When not buried in text or staring at the blinding light of a word processor, Sarah is enjoying films, books, and video games, as well as exploring the beauty that Washington has to offer.
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