Her Body and Other Parties is a short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado and I bloody adored it. (Emphasis on the bloody).
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.
Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.
The stories in this collection are strange, erotic, violent, and effortlessly queer. Sex and sexuality are vital to these stories – in the story ‘Inventory’, a woman recounts her sexual encounters as the world collapses due to a plague, and in ‘The Husband Stitch’ (a retelling of the campsite horror story ‘The Green Ribbon’) a woman refuses to take off a green ribbon around her neck, despite her husband’s endless pleading.
I have to admit, I thought the beginning stories were stronger than the later ones, especially the ones before the novella, ‘Especially Heinous’. This is a novella that is told as a series of episode summaries for the TV show Law and Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit). I really liked this at first, because it deals with cool topics such as doppelgängers and dead girls who have bells for eyes, but it went on too long and I felt myself itching to get onto the next story.
“Do you ever worry,” she asked me, “that you’re the madwoman in the attic?”
I loved every second of this weird collection of tales. Even the stories that weren’t as good as the others were still beautifully written, and I have a feeling that many of them will stick in my mind for a very long time.
Trigger warnings: sexual violence/assault, violence against women, sex