Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado is a collection of short stories, many of which contain an air of horror, but all of which have a feminist thread through them. This collection has been nominated for numerous awards and was awarded the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction (2018).
In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
I want to first start by saying that I’m on the fence about short stories. I’ve loved quite a few, but I’ve also hated quite a few, and there hasn’t been one compilation or book of short stories by any author where I’ve loved the majority.
That being said, I really didn’t care for this book of short stories. Maybe it’s because horror/creepy is not my favorite genre, but most of these stories were just so weird to me. I didn’t get them. There were maybe two or three where I knew what was going on, I understood it, and maybe I didn’t hate them, but there was no real love there. Stories like The Husband Stitch (which is a re-telling of the Green Ribbon short story) and Eight Bites were pretty straightforward and I understood the premise. I didn’t mind them.
But then there were stories that were just out there…like really abstract/absurdist. I’m thinking most specifically of Especially Heinous, which was the longest one!!! It puts together little snippet summaries of each Law & Order: SVU episode, but in a really weird, supernatural/horror way. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen a single episode of SVU, but I did not understand what these snippets were doing at all. That story, which is basically novella length, drags on for-e-ver and I wanted to DNF so many times during it. I totally would have, too, if I wasn’t fulfilling a reading challenge prompt with this one.
So, to put it simply, most of the stories are just too weird, bizarre for my taste and I also didn’t enjoy the frequent, often graphic depictions of sex, either. I’m not too prudish when it comes to reading stuff like that, but in a short-story, where there’s very little substance between sex-scenes, it felt like a lot, like way too much, and I didn’t like any of the characters, either, so nothing about reading it was fun in any way.
Maybe the feminist stuff just went over my head, which I felt was a shame, but I just did not care for this book.
Literary Value 2/5
I could have dropped this down to one, but I won’t because I can clearly recognize that Machado has writing chops. Like, I could see her writing structure and literary power at work in these stories. I just didn’t care for the product she produced with them.
Machado definitely has a command of the English language, and there were many times throughout my reading where I saw glimmers of beauty and well-put-together prose. The only problem I had was that her stories were just so abstract, it made it difficult for me to tell if she really knew how to structure a story well, or if she was just breaking with all conventionality on purpose and didn’t care if I, the reader, understood it or not. It was very difficult for me to tell whether I was meant to be confused all the time or if I just wasn’t up to snuff with understanding the subtle sub-plots she had going on (it’s probably the latter, so that’s why I didn’t rate this a 1/5!)
If feminist lit is your thing, by all means read this short story collection and maybe you’ll get more out of it than me? I’m definitely a feminist, but I guess my literary evaluating skills are a bit rusty because most of the stories really didn’t make much sense to me.
Entertainment Factor: 1/5
If you couldn’t tell already, I definitely wasn’t entertained by this book. I wanted it to be over almost from the very beginning. I just did not enjoy reading any of these stories. Even if they weren’t dark, creepy, or disturbing, I just didn’t like any of the characters in them. I felt like most of the stories were over too quickly for me to really get much sense of them anyway.
The other thing I didn’t enjoy, which I already mentioned before, was the frequency of the sex that was on display in these stories. And often these scenes felt pointless or the sex was just going-through-the-motions as far as relationships go. One stories is mostly just a laundry-list of the bad/unenjoyable sex this character has had with a wide variety of people. The ratio of sex to plot in these stories is, for me, too high. Not much happens within the 25-30 pages of these stories, but there certainly is a lot of sex. And, again, I don’t mind sex in books (I read romance, books, for crying out loud), I just think that there wasn’t enough substance to these stories to really warrant the amount that was there. It got to be really tiresome after a while.
Cover Art: 1/5
I’m going to be really blunt here and just say: I hate it. I think it’s ugly and it’s far too abstract to really get from a first, second, or even third glance. I stared at this cover for a really long time trying to tell what was going on. I can make out the human head-ish shape, with a shoulder (I think?), and I get that the green spiral is the “ribbon” from the first story (The Husband Stitch), so yeah, I understand what’s going on, but I just don’t think it does a good job of showing it.
I’ve seen covers that are similar to this and come across better. I think this one just looks very amateur-sh and I really, really don’t like the colors happening here. But it might just be my personal taste. Let me know if you disagree in the comments.
Overall Rating: 1.25/5 Green Ribbons
Just not my cup of tea. If you like short stories, and don’t mind the horror genre (though I wouldn’t necessarily call any of these stories scary), then perhaps you might enjoy these stories. Machado is definitely a skilled writer, I just didn’t happen to care for plot or characters of these stories in particular.
On another note, this book of stories is diverse and offers up a whole host of talking-points of the feminist nature. If that’s your jam, definitely check this book out. Though I didn’t really get the point of many of these stories, I was also just not enjoying myself reading this book, so I didn’t dissect them too much.
I won’t rule out ever reading any more of Machado’s work. I’d like to see more from her, maybe a novel, so that I can get more of a sense of her storytelling skill. I’d like to sit a bit longer with some of her characters, learn a bit more about the worlds she’s creating.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading this post. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you have read it. If you’re considering reading it, let me know what you think, once you do!
What do you think of short stories? Let’s chat in the comments! And as always, happy reading!