In Other Words

Her Body and Other Par­ties by Car­men Maria Machado

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Grace Paraz­zoli

Gray­wolf Press, 245 pages

In “Real Women Have Bodies,” one of eight mag­nif­i­cent sto­ries in Car­men Maria Machado’s Na­tional Book Award-nom­i­nated Her Body and Other Par­ties, women’s bodies grad­u­ally fade away. The women re­main, in­cor­po­real but present in ways that those who are still bod­ied do not al­ways re­al­ize. “At first ev­ery­one blamed the fash­ion in­dus­try, then the mil­len­ni­als, and, fi­nally, the water,” the nar­ra­tor de­scribes. Those causes for the bodies’ dis­ap­pear­ances are all ruled out, the fash­ion in­dus­try be­cause, “You can’t put clothes on air. Not that they haven’t tried.”

The women may be bod­i­less, but they still find a way to make their pres­ence known: There are ru­mors that they’re “get­ting them­selves into elec­tri­cal sys­tems and f------ up servers and ATMs and vot­ing ma­chines,” the nar­ra­tor’s girl­friend ex­plains. “Protest­ing.”

Th­ese women who are real but don’t have bodies — and ap­pear in this eerie, sad, funny story that an­nounces in its ti­tle that real women have bodies — are some of the many fe­male pres­ences in Her

Body and Other Par­ties, a work that seems des­tined for a well-de­served place on fem­i­nist lit­er­a­ture syl­labi. The women are moth­ers, wives, les­bians, artists, vic­tims, and Det. Olivia Benson of Law &

Or­der: SVU. Their cor­po­re­al­ity is fun­da­men­tal to how they sur­vive the phys­i­cal and psy­chic chal­lenges of be­ing, in a world in which there are plenty of both types. In one story, a wo­man cat­a­logs her trysts against the back­ground of an epi­demic; in an­other, a wo­man can­not watch porn with­out hear­ing the ac­tors’ in­ner thoughts.

Choices re­lated to the body are sub­ject to oth­ers’ com­men­tary, and at times, their dan­ger­ous cu­rios­ity. A wo­man who de­cides to get bariatric surgery is con­demned by her daugh­ter, who ac­cuses her of hat­ing her own body and, by proxy, the daugh­ter’s own sim­i­lar one. (On the day of the surgery, af­ter the pro­tag­o­nist tells her fe­male doc­tor a story, the doc­tor taunts, “Don’t make me cut out your tongue” — voices, too, are sus­cep­ti­ble to the tam­per­ing of oth­ers.) In “The Hus­band Stitch,” the green rib­bon around the neck of the pro­tag­o­nist is the sub­ject of her hus­band’s ques­tion­ing. “A wife,” he says, “should have no se­crets from her hus­band.” “I’m not hid­ing it,” she replies. “It just isn’t yours.”

The women’s bodies give them grat­i­fi­ca­tion, too: Sex is a source of plea­sure and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Through­out the col­lec­tion, Machado writes of ro­mance and sex with speci­ficity, blunt­ing the lan­guage in a way that some­how makes it more ar­dent than the most ex­ces­sive lyri­cism.

Within that crisp writ­ing style are hu­mor and sor­row and a seam­less mashup of gen­res: from hor­ror and fan­tasy to do­mes­tic drama. Lit­er­ary tropes pop into the sto­ries ex­plic­itly at times, as when a writer is ques­tioned about her cre­ation of a fe­male char­ac­ter who may have a men­tal ill­ness — “It’s sort of tire­some and re­gres­sive and, well,

done,” a wo­man iden­ti­fied as a “poet-com­poser” tells her. Sto­ries sur­face from mem­o­ries, handed down from mother to child or re­called with new ter­ror in adult­hood.

The story in the col­lec­tion that most overtly plays with genre, in this case the tele­vi­sion genre, is also its cen­ter­piece work. In “Es­pe­cially Heinous,” Machado pro­vides episode syn­opses through 12 sea­sons of Law and Or­der: SVU, us­ing the show’s ac­tual episode ti­tles but fol­low­ing them with dark, fan­tas­ti­cal re­caps. As Dets. Benson and Stabler (played on the show by Mariska Har­gi­tay and Christo­pher Meloni) try to solve bru­tal crimes, they en­counter dop­pel­gangers who are bet­ter at their jobs than they are, but prob­a­bly evil. The Law and Or­der dum-dum beats in­side Stabler; Benson “feels it in her teeth.” Rape and mur­der vic­tims haunt Benson, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with bells where eyes should be. “Give us voices,” they tell her over and over. The story in­ter­sperses dark hu­mor in a way that un­set­tles — to laugh amid the crimes de­scribed threat­ens com­pla­cency or com­plic­ity.

In an in­ter­view last month with the lit­er­ary blog The Mil­lions, Machado said, “My wife and I play this game where we’ll see some­thing and I’ll lean over and sug­gest a fan­tas­tic al­ter­ation to it. For ex­am­ple, we’ll see a lit­tle kid play­ing with her re­flec­tion in a large win­dow, and I’ll say to my wife, ‘What would hap­pen if the re­flec­tion stopped fol­low­ing her?’ ” The world of Machado’s hero­ines starts out just a bit di­ver­gent from the one we rec­og­nize, re­veal­ing twists and con­tor­tions that still seem bizarre but real. Her com­ment gives a wel­come in­sight into the cre­ative work­ings of a re­mark­able mind. How would Machado shape what hap­pens next? Her en­tic­ingly un­pre­dictable prose makes any cor­rect guesses im­prob­a­ble.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.