A no-holds-barred onslaught on sexism and the role of women in society

Much like Angela Carter, she uses metaphorical tales to highlight the challenges of female sexuality, writes Sonja van der Westhuizen of 'Her Body and Other Parties'

22 July 2019 - 11:47 By Sonja van der Westhuizen
The stories in 'Her Body and Other Parties' read like fairy tales, only we soon realise that these fairy tales are closer to the truth than we think.
The stories in 'Her Body and Other Parties' read like fairy tales, only we soon realise that these fairy tales are closer to the truth than we think.
Image: Jonathan Ball Publishers

John Mayer might have referred to a woman’s body as a wonderland, but Carmen Machado’s women’s bodies are deserted amusement parks – empty and objectified.

The anthology starts with an extremely apt quote from Jacqui Germain:

“My body is a haunted
house that I am lost in
There are no doors but there are knives
and a hundred windows”

Originally released in 2017 and newly published by Serpent’s Tail earlier this year, Her Body and Other Parties is a prize-winning collection of stories. It has gained so much attention it will soon be adapted as a television series by FX.

By some it is described as “feminist horror”, but even though there are strong elements of horror, it leans towards magic realism and folklore with a chilling twist.

Machado’s essays, fiction and criticism have appeared in, among others, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Granta. Her debut short story collection consists of eight stories which tackle sexuality head-on and launch a no-holds-barred onslaught on sexism and the role of women in society.

Much like Angela Carter, she uses metaphorical tales to highlight the challenges of female sexuality. They can be read purely for superficial entertainment, but there runs a darker, more ominous undercurrent beneath each of them.

The strongest in the collection is The Husband Stitch, which chronicles the relationship of a newly married couple. Even though the woman completely submits to her husband, she asks for one thing to be her own – the green ribbon around her neck. The husband complies and tries to resist the urge to untie the ever-present ribbon, but after he persists, she eventually gives in. The results of his demanding curiosity are to be expected, but are also shocking. The Serpent’s Tail’s edition boasts a luminous, toxic green cover, with a depiction of a woman cut to pieces by a green ribbon.

Real Women Have Bodies goes a step further. A sales clerk at a mall boutique notices something odd about the prom dresses a dressmaker delivers to the store. At the same time girls are disappearing – possibly permanently. Even Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is rewritten and provided with a slightly more fantastical angle.

Her Body and Other Parties was released around the time the #metoo movement took off and the initial Harvey Weinstein accusations became public knowledge. This paved the way for Machado’s boundary-pushing collection of stories and, in all probability, strengthened its stronghold, along with Machado’s well-published feud with author Junot Díaz.

The stories read like fairy tales, only we soon realise that these fairy tales are closer to the truth than we think. They will leave you unsettled and, at times, even slightly confused, but if nothing else, they will act as daring conversation starters at a boring dinner party. @sonjavanderwest

  • Her Body and Other Parties is published locally by Jonathan Ball, an imprint of Serpent's Tail 

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