This 2017 short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado flawlessly blends elements of Sci-Fi, Horror, and Drama, leaving the reader uneasy and on edge. Written in an almost melodic way, each story delves into a different situation in which a woman has her body or sanity questioned. Unflinching in its portrayal of horror and sexual content Her body and other parties demands you question how society treats women.
The Husband Stitch
The first story of this collection is a retelling of The Green Ribbon, in which we follow an unnamed protagonist from the first meeting with her future husband, and their life together. The story tells of the many instances in which men and society in general demand control of her body with little respect for our protagonist’s wants. The Husband Stitch is interspersed with directions for those reading the story aloud.
This odd story is set in a post-apocalyptic world and lists the sexual experiences of the main character. Written in the style of someone just listing their encounters throughout their life, there is little warmth or personality to the individuals she sleeps with “One woman. Blond hair, brash voice, friend of a friend. We married.”. Inventory treats sexual experiences as a commodity, perhaps playing on the societal norms of which gender should treat sex as something special, and which should try to rack up as much as possible.
Mothers starts with a lady being handed a baby, the mother of the baby no longer able to cope “I was pregnant. Now there’s a baby. She’s yours.” This short story is the most abstract of the collection, with the reader not being entirely sure what is fact, and what is fiction. One clear element throughout is the pain for a relationship lost, blended with some truly beautiful imagery.
Especi a lly Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU
This interesting story was created after Carmen Maria Machado was in bed with a fever watching Law & Order on repeat. Especi a lly Heinous tells the story of two investigators and their foray into the mysterious, including ghosts and aliens. With each paragraph starting with the name of an episode of Law & Order SVU all through season one to twelve.
Real woman have bodies
This allegorical short story pulls no punches at questioning the pressure put on women to be a certain size, age, or have a certain look to fit in with the ‘norm’. This fantastic horror tells the story of how women have started fading away, slowly at first, they eventually disappear. Scientists can find no reason for this, no virus, bacteria, or STI, it just happens!
This tale follows a middle-aged lady who, having never been comfortable with her body, decides to undergo surgery to have part of her stomach removed. Following the surgery she finds that whilst she may have lost some of her body, she may have gained something externally. Eight Bites explores eating disorders, and body dysmorphia in great detail, so a trigger warning may be in order.
After being accepted as a resident at Devil’s Throat, an artist colony, our main protagonist must return to mountains that hold a particularly dark memory for her. Thoroughly caught up in her mind, as a reader you are not sure what is or is not real. Carmen Maria Machado takes the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope and flips it on its head.
Difficult at Parties
Following a sexual assault, a woman finds the only way to cope is to watch pornography. A brutally honest look at the aftermath, we see how people around her try to help in different ways, whilst she gets deeper and deeper into her coping mechanism. A second story that I think requires a trigger warning for those that may have experienced something similar in their life.
I found it interesting that bar Especi a lly Heinous every protagonist is nameless, which felt particularly harrowing as the stories progressed. Overall I thought this was a fantastic debut for Carmen Maria Machado and I look forward to picking up more by her soon. I certainly feel that Carmen Maria Machado is a feminist author to be watched.
Follow my blog to keep up-to-date with my reviews, each story will be getting an individual deep-dive review soon.
To pick up your own copy: Buy here*
*This is an affliate link. If you buy through this link, you pay the same,
but I may receive a small percentage of the sale