by Heidi Simmons

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Her Body and Other Parties
by Carmen Maria Machado – Stories
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The harassment of women is currently a significant and relevant conversation.  Finally, the nation is exposing and discussing the prevalence, degradation and shame of sexual harassment.  I’m not an expert, but it seems to me, sexual harassment and assault is not about sex addiction like some predators would have you believe, but an attempt to control, bully and intimidate women by cowardly men in positions of power.  

Hopefully, the conversations on the subject will continue until women are granted respect, equality and treated professionally in the work place.  It is long overdue, and in our patriarchal society, men must help lead the way.  Meanwhile, women continue to navigate the challenges in a male dominated world.

The stories of Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties” (Graywolf Press, 248 pages) delve into the secret lives of women and the complications and challenges of living complete and full lives.

There are eleven imaginative stories in Machado’s debut collection and all have memorable moments that linger and haunt.

The first story in the book, “The Husband Stitch,” is about a woman who always wears a green ribbon tied in a bow around her neck.  She is a virgin and picks up her future husband at a bar.  She kisses him before they even say hello.  It’s love a first sight.  The couple date, get married and have a male child.  All seems normal except the woman refuses to let her husband untie her bow.

One day her little boy tries to pull away the ribbon and when she denies her son, their relationship is never the same.  As the years go bye, the child grows up, leaves the nest, and the couple struggles to regain intimacy.  During sex, the woman finally allows her husband to remove the ribbon where she literally comes undone.

The author opens this strange tale with a short description of each character and a suggestion how to do his and her voices if you intend to read the story out loud.   This clever and provocative intro heightens the tension and eccentricity of this weird fairytale.  As described, the narrator and the others seem so benign.

But, few could read “The Husband Stitch” aloud.  It is filled with graphic detail and provocative sexual imagery.  The narrator longs to be a sexual deviant and loves to hear bizarre stories about dark and dangerous characters.  Finally, the narrator’s own story becomes one of myth and legend. 

“Inventory” goes through a list of men and women the narrator has encountered and fucked in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by plague.  The succinct and descriptive journal is filled with people who are alternately hilarious, lovely and terrifying.  But, I had to wonder if it is the narrator who is spreading the unknown deadly virus through her relationships.

A young woman falls in love with an older woman in “Mothers.”   The younger narrator is thrilled to be having so much sex and never having to worry about getting pregnant.  She never wanted kids and a family.  But, some how she ends up with a baby.  It’s all good until the dream of a perfect life is shattered.

“Real Women Have bodies” is the story of a young woman who discovers how easily women can just fade away and disappear.  This may be an allegory, but it is terrifying as the girl and her female lover find themselves becoming ghosts.

Most of the stories are told in the first-person, which provides the reader with intimate insight and emotional detail.  Machado uses humor and terror as she explores the world through storytelling.  She is acutely aware of the genre and the potency of her characters in prose. 

Each story is rich with thoughtful and provocative descriptions.  Mochado is not shy.  Sexual partners and encounters are significant and they are mostly with women.   At first, the read is peculiar and shocking.  But, as a whole the collection becomes more powerful and potent. 

The stories may not provide a satisfying happy ending or a clear resolution, and some are deeply disturbing.  Whether there is metaphor or allegory present in these short tales, that’s something for you and your book club to discuss. 

Machado has a voice that delivers strength and dares to allow women to go all the way with their lives without men dictating the rules.  And that is something to be celebrated.

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