A more recent publication – brought to you by Carmen Maria Machado – Her Bodies & Other Parties continues our short fiction fixation, and rightly so. Machado awakes a subconscious you are yet to realise you have. May we let this collection engross us, as much as Atwood and Carter did.
Welcome to ‘The Husband Stitch,’ the first story of Machado’s mini library of haunting creativity. Think of boy meets girl, the classic edition when the pair meet in high school, grow up together but not quite. This fictional tale forces the reader to imagine these highschool [non] sweethearts as realistic characters. Machado upsets the linear and regularly consumed formula of ‘romance’ to define her unique tone. The young girl is born with a green ribbon around her neck, which her husband wants to be his, as this extract suggests:
“Tell me about your ribbon,” he says.
“There’s nothing to tell. It’s my ribbon.”
“May I touch it?”
“I want to touch it,” he says. His fingers twitch a little,
and I close my legs and sit up straighter.
(Machado 2017, p. 6)
Female bodies are tormented throughout, particularly in this introductory story. The nameless girl eventually falls pregnant, adding to her body’s distress. The disappointment comes after birth when she realises the baby does not have a ribbon, like hers, as it is a boy. The title then becomes representative of the narrative, as the male doctor makes a special effort to sew her vagina post birth, “nice and tight, everyone’s happy” (Machado 2017, p. 17). The female body is an object for the man to use, and ultimately abuse.
Machado’s style intertwines Gothic features with science fiction which introduces our next tale very well – ‘Especially Heinous.’ This experimental form of short story exposes metafictional elements based on Law & Order: SVU, a television program founded on the basis of sexual assault. The use of already established characters, Benson and Stabler give familiarity to readers through intertextuality. Although, the story itself is highly unconventional. Machado uses dark humour to normalise such gruesome content, as seen in ‘Retro’ by the detectives refusing to tell the revenge killer that she murdered the wrong guy. If you watch the Dick Wolf production every now and again, Machado will change how you react and absorb the series. She will never leave your mind.
A level of social commentary is evident through these stories, as Machado brings attention to aspects of our culture that we accept as the norm. From an old wive’s tale about maintaining pleasure (for the male) post child birth, to fictional victims becoming entertainment. In doing so, the writer educates the reader on the possibility to reject, or at least challenge these norms.