Her Body and Other Parties (2017)
Words by Caitlin Colapietro
Her Body and Other Parties (2017)
Author Carmen Maria Machado melds together genres into an alluring and disturbing package of short stories in Her Body and Other Parties (2017), blurring the lines between psychological horror and science fiction with a strong feminist sensibility. The bodies of these fictional women are subjected to unsettling and grotesque horrors that directly mirror the real-world violence that women are faced with.
The ghost of a woman’s lost weight after surgery does not literally haunt her, but how many women feel haunted by the iterations of their body throughout the stages of their lives? Nobody can actually hear the inner thoughts of porn actors, but how many women are plagued with suffering intrusive thoughts from traumatic sexual experiences that linger with us into our intimacy after the fact? The violence in these stories is tangible even though the scenarios are told through an ethereal veil.
Using aspects of horror and science fiction, she highlights the abuse, disrespect, commodification, and idealisation of women’s bodies. Her first story, The Husband Stitch, solidifies this by setting the stage for what’s to come when we find our protagonist at the hands of a man’s curiosity, “My weight shifts, and with it, gravity seizes me. My husband’s face falls away, and then I see the ceiling and the wall behind me. As my lopped head tips backward off my neck and rolls off the bed, I feel as lonely as I have ever been.”
The stories often have an aura of queer energy that offers a unique perspective on the subject matter. Machado’s sensual brashness is at times humorous and at other times uncomfortable. Moments like “I do not know if I am the first woman to walk up the aisle of St. George’s with semen leaking down her leg, but I like to imagine that I am,” or, “We kissed deeply for a long time, my heart hammering in my cunt,” pack a memorable, even arousing punch. However, that sensuality leaves a sour taste when juxtaposed with misery: “One night, we had a fight that left me in tears. Afterward, she asked me if I wanted to fuck, and undressed before I could answer. I wanted to push her out the window. We had sex and I started crying.”
Across the board, the boldness results in an authentic form of storytelling. I credit this in part to Machado’s buttery language she uses in conjunction with her choice of genres. For example, in Real Women Have Bodies the female protagonist's love interest is struck with a mysterious plague where women are fading into silent oblivion, “‘I’m fading,’ she says, and as she says it, I can see her skin is more like skim milk than whole, that she seems less there. She breathes and the impression blinks like she’s fighting it. I feel like my feet are trap doors that have sprung open, and my insides are hurling out of my body.” These elements of horror feel real to the reader because you know that the violence described is real.
This book challenged my understanding of violence. By capturing the mental anguish of the women, Machado broadens the definition of the violence they face. She demonstrates that it is so much more than the physical and it stretches out to cultural and generational horizons. Sure, these stories deal with themes of horror and science fiction, but they go beyond those boundaries. They go further than just being deemed a collection of spooky short stories. They are affirmative in a way that I think many women can relate to. Women are no strangers to being subjected to violence and Machado’s storytelling validates those experiences in a cryptic and otherworldly way.