Let’s Talk Her Body and Other Parties

The cover of Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

There are so many dark, strange, and beautiful books to explore and so many dark, strange, and beautiful people who recommend them. I’m losing track of how and who, and when I came across some books. This means I need to start making notes so I can remember. I’ve forgotten how I came across Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, but man, I’m glad I did. I read it in the late winter or early spring of 2021. There are touches of body horror, the fantastical, humor, some speculative elements, the marvelous, and realism. The combination is unique and engrossing. And a style I love. Not really this or that, but a blending.

It’s a collection of eight stories that stand alone and ebb and flow in just the right way. The thread that seems to bind these stories is women’s bodies. They range from a retelling of “The Green Ribbon,” a pandemic story, a reimagining of an episode of Criminal Minds: SVU, weight loss, and ghosts sewn into dresses.

My favorite is “The Husband Stitch.” I told my husband about the story, which has now taken up permanent residence in my head, and he said, “Oh, it’s just like that camp story.” This statement sent me on a deep dive into the world of “The Green Ribbon,” which can be found in the children’s book In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz, which came after another children’s book Ghostly Fun with the story “The Velvet Ribbon” by Ann McGovern. But it goes back much further! Alexander Dumont wrote “La Femme au Collier de Velours” or “The Woman with the Velvet Necklace.” Washington Irving adapted the short story into “Adventures of the German Student.” Shel Silverstein had a poem version called “Long Scarf” in Falling Up. The story keeps going, and always a woman is held together with a bit of velvet, ribbon, or yarn.

We can’t gloss over the term “husband stitch,” which has its own horrifying history. It’s essentially an extra stitch a doctor might use when a woman is resewn after childbirth. The extra stitch supposedly leaves the woman’s body “tighter” and “more pleasurable” for the male partner. The results aren’t conclusive as to whether or not the partner feels the difference, but there can be real issues for the woman both physically and mentally. Here’s one article to get an idea. Women write about bodies at a whole other level of horror, and I’m down for it.

I’m not the only one who has read this book and found it stuck with them. In my grad school fiction workshop, we each selected a published story to share and discuss. A classmate picked Machado’s “Inventory,” I knew I needed to befriend this person forever. The first time I read the piece, it was still so COVID-y and pandemic-y, and it hit extra hard since it takes place during a fictitious pandemic. I reread the piece while in Maine, where the story lands itself. I don’t want to give too much away, but my mind went to other places with this second reading versus the first.

I was lucky (and I mean LUCKY) enough to attend the AWP Conference in Seattle this spring. I went to see Maurice Carlos Ruffin, a wonderful writer, and human, for a panel about linked short story collections. Something I’ve been learning a lot about and was excited to attend. Machado was a last-minute sub for the panel, and I was thrilled. She talked about the importance of structuring a collection just so. Then said that people complain to her about her book when they read it out of order but rarely when read it in order. This is my reader-beware warning for the day. Read the stories in the proper order. The author took time to deliver them in a way they felt would take you on the best journey.

In conclusion, this book allows you to lose yourself in it and carry it lodged between the folds of your brain—my favorite kind.

The cover of Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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