Her Body and Other Par­ties

by Car­men Maria Machado Ser­pent’s Tail; $24.99

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE MONTHLY — NOTED - NOTED by Kevin Ra­bal­ais

Car­men Maria Machado,

in Her Body and Other Par­ties, of­fers eight genre-bend­ing tales about women on the verge of phys­i­cal and men­tal col­lapse. She threads her de­but with fan­tasies, hor­ror sto­ries, fairy­tales, fa­bles and science fic­tion, all with a uni­fy­ing back­ground of queer the­ory. A fi­nal­ist for the 2017 Na­tional Book Awards, it’s an en­thralling, if un­even, col­lec­tion about a va­ri­ety of crimes against women and their bod­ies. Machado tracks her char­ac­ters through love and lust, danger and de­spair, child­birth and child rear­ing. In “Eight Bites”, for in­stance, the nar­ra­tor (most, here, are women) pon­ders her post-preg­nancy life and body: “Then I had Cal – dif­fi­cult, sharp-eyed Cal, who has never got­ten me half as much as I have never got­ten her – and sud­denly ev­ery­thing was wrecked, like she was a heavy-metal rocker trash­ing a ho­tel room be­fore de­part­ing.” In the col­lec­tion’s cen­tre­piece, the novella “Es­pe­cially Heinous”, Machado writes, in sum­mary form, 272 episodes for the television show Law & Or­der: SVU. Here and else­where, she ex­am­ines pop­u­lar cul­ture’s fas­ci­na­tion with abused women. Th­ese summaries, from sev­eral sen­tences to a para­graph long, read like twice­told tales that re­flect women’s anx­i­eties. They be­come, at times, numb­ingly mo­not­o­nous, but many might ar­gue that this re­flects the na­ture of the show it­self. In “Real Women Have Bod­ies”, Machado’s women must learn ways to in­habit a world where their bod­ies fade with­out warn­ing. An­other epi­demic strikes the char­ac­ters in “In­ven­tory”. What be­gins as a de­cep­tively sim­ple cat­a­logue of the nar­ra­tor’s many lovers turns – at a clin­i­cal and eerie pace, with the min­i­mal de­tail typ­i­cal to this col­lec­tion – into a post-apoca­lyp­tic tale of virus and quar­an­tine. Machado fills her col­lec­tion with sto­ries that seem chis­elled from much longer works. While th­ese pages oc­ca­sion­ally whiff of An­gela Carter or Shirley Jack­son and es­tab­lish Machado’s fa­cil­ity in us­ing and re­pur­pos­ing fairy­tales, any in­flu­ence seems a mere spring­board to forge new paths to sur­vival. In jug­gling seem­ingly dis­parate gen­res, she guides us through th­ese land­scapes of hor­ror and sur­re­al­ism, grant­ing us a sin­gu­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant,” wrote Emily Dick­in­son. Machado heeds this ad­vice through­out, but it’s clear­est in “The Hus­band Stitch”. The story chron­i­cles a woman’s ex­pe­ri­ence of courtship, mar­riage, and moth­er­hood while of­fer­ing par­al­lel, cau­tion­ary tales of op­pressed women. “When you think about it, sto­ries have this way of run­ning to­gether like rain­drops in a pond,” writes Machado. “Each is borne from the clouds sep­a­rate, but once they have come to­gether, there is no way to tell them apart.” A sim­i­lar ef­fect per­me­ates Machado’s de­but.

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