Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

Carmen Maria Machado subverts the known world and its expectations in her ingenious debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties. Reading it is a heady and unnerving, sometimes horrifying, experience that opens up human identity as if it were a flower. From the dark corners of existence, from the cracks between pretensions, Machado conjures monsters and angels that, in the light of her deft yet sensuous prose, become painfully recognizable.

Eight stories make up the collection, and many contain elements of magical realism. Machado melds folklore and fabulist images with the raw realities of love, sex, queerness and alienation. There are also satirical elements in these stories, ironies embedded in the dreamy plots like shards of glass. Nowhere are these shards sharper than in "Especially Heinous," a novella-length send-up of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that summarizes every episode of the long-running television show. Few writers can successfully blend trenchant wit aimed at machismo and misogyny with truly creepy gothic imagery. In "Eight Bites," a woman is haunted by the blob-like ghost of her former body, which she tried so hard to lose. And in "The Resident," the alienated protagonist finally understands that knowledge "was a dwarfing, obliterating, all-consuming thing, and to have it was to both be grateful and suffer greatly."

Her Body and Other Parties has so many beautiful lines and sophisticated passages that it would be hard to highlight them all. More importantly, though, it demonstrates that literature, when forthright and brave, can simultaneously dig deep within the self and reframe the greater world. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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