Published by Graywolf Press on October 3, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories (single author), LGBT, Women
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, was a thoughtful birthday gift from my husband. This short story collection has many of my favorites: weird plots, beautiful writing, and layered themes. Machado’s stories focus on women and crimes committed upon their bodies. There is a wide variety of story formats and genres throughout the collection. One of the weirdest stories, Especially Heinous, features episode synopses of the first 12 seasons of Law & Order SVU. The main characters’ names: Benson and Stabler, remain the same, but Machado introduces supernatural and science fiction elements that become progressively wilder. Reading Especially Heinous reminds me of time I’ve spent reading episode synopses of shows on Wikipedia. Another one of my favorite stories was Real Women Have Bodies where a dress shop sells dresses with human souls sewn into the fabric. And in Eight Bites a woman makes the horrifying decision to surgically remove a portion of her GI tract to decrease her appetite and have a thinner figure. As a foodie this story was highly disturbing. The pressure placed on women to maintain a certain figure leads this character to sacrificing one of life’s greatest pleasures: eating.
But the standout of this anthology is The Husband Stitch. If you do not have the time to read this entire book, I implore you to make time to read this one story. It is a literary feat that deserves multiple readings and enthusiastic discussion. You cannot read this story without thinking about the horrendous possibility that SCOTUS may soon overturn Roe v Wade. The story follows the life of a married woman and eventual mother. The woman wears a green ribbon around her neck. She never removes the ribbon, and its purpose is not revealed until the story’s conclusion. This ribbon is the only part of her body that is off limits to her husband. The husband can’t stand not knowing the secret of the ribbon. I loved The Husband Stitch so much. I want to share my interpretation of the story (mind you this is a man’s interpretation of a story that is very much centered on women’s issues). Spoiler Warning for the Remainder of the Review!!!
I believe the ribbon represents the woman’s privacy. This was the one piece of her body she kept off limits from her husband. It was only for her. And like many straight males, the husband can’t stand part of his wife’s body being off limits to him. Even though the wife freely gives every other part of her body to her husband, he’s unsatisfied. At the end of the story the wife finally relents and allows the husband to untie the ribbon. Her head falls to the floor, and she dies. Are women really living if men have control over their bodies?
The husband stitch scene was hard to stomach. A husband stitch is an extra stitch the doctor puts into a women’s vagina after vaginal tearing from childbirth. The extra stitch is meant to create more tightness for the husband’s sexual pleasure. This is vile. Minutes after giving birth the wife helplessly listens to her male doctor and husband decide to surgically alter her body, without her consent. This reminds me of all the recent news stories of red states creating legislation that limit women’s access to abortions. These news stories are often accompanied by images of solely male politicians signing the bills that limit women’s access to healthcare.
There is a scene from the woman’s childhood when she spots a toe mixed in with the produce at the grocery store. She is insistent that she saw a toe, but no one takes her seriously. Her father explains that the male shop owner would never allow toes to be mixed in with his produce. This reminds me of how women are often not believed or taken seriously when they bravely come forward to share stories of sexual assault.