Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties

her body and other partiesHer Body and Other Parties
by Carmen Maria Machado
Fantasy/Magical Realism Short Stories
241 pages
Published 2017

This is another book off my Wronged Women list – women who have been part of the #metoo movement. Specifically the ones that have come out against Junot Diaz and Sherman Alexie, but I hope to expand it to others as well. Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of eight surreal stories. Magical Realism is probably the best categorization for them, as they’re not really fantasy. Real World stories with a touch of magic, or events that we’re not sure whether they could be magic or are just in the narrator’s head.

The Husband Stitch is the first story, and it’s a retelling of an old children’s story that I recently saw being discussed on Twitter – the one with the woman who had a green ribbon tied around her neck. Her husband always wanted to ask about it, but she refused to answer any questions about it, and wouldn’t let him touch it until she was on her deathbed. In Machado’s version, it isn’t just the narrator that has one. Every woman does. It’s different colors, in different places, but it’s still never talked about. I think she means it as a metaphor for trauma. It works well.

Eight Bites is a particularly haunting piece about self-hate, body acceptance, and peer pressure. It’s probably my second favorite story after The Husband Stitch.

The only one I didn’t love was Especially Heinous. It was written as episode synopses of a television show, and it was interesting, but it just went on too long.

All of the stories are written well, though, and each one makes a different point. I think this would make an amazing Book Club book, because I’d love to discuss the meanings of the stories with other people. Other women, specifically. It would definitely be a great book for discussion.

From the cover of Her Body and Other Parties:

In her electrifying debut, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Here are eight startling stories that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties enlarges the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

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Book Review: The Dirty Girls Social Club

the dirty girls social club

The Dirty Girls Social Club
by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
Contemporary Fiction
308 pages
Published 2004

So in trying to read more inclusively, I had been looking at some prominent minority writers like Junot Diaz or Sherman Alexie (I actually had one of Alexie’s books out from the library when I realized where I’d heard his name). When the news broke about Junot Diaz, and I remembered that Sherman Alexie also had sexual harassment accusations against him, I decided instead of reading their books, I’d look up the books of the women calling them out! The Dirty Girls Social Club is the first book of what I’m calling my “Wronged Women” list. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote an article titled “I tried to warn you about Junot Diaz” about her experience with him. Others on the list include Erika Wurth, Elissa Washuta, Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, and Monica Byrne. I’ve built a shelf on Goodreads for my list, and I’m sure more names will wind up on it. (Unfortunately.)

The Dirty Girls Social Club is the story of six college friends who decide to meet every six months for the rest of their lives, no matter what. The book covers one six month period, from one meeting to the next. It took me a few chapters to sort out who was who, and throughout the book I occasionally had to flip back to the first chapter, where Lauren gives a rundown of names and professions. All six are Hispanic of some flavor, whether that’s Dominican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Spanish, or Southwestern Native American. That’s why they banded together in college. Each one has her own storyline – dealing with an abusive marriage, leaving a loveless marriage, being forcibly outed as a lesbian and learning to adjust to her new visibility, or becoming a rock star. I enjoyed how each of the six had a very individual story; they have interesting jobs and complicated love lives and unique problems.

Each of the women reflects on her Hispanic heritage in some form, whether that’s taking lessons in how to love from their parents, or fighting for recognition for their minority, or writing columns about their lives for the local newspaper. The book both shows and tells us about the differences in various Hispanic cultures.

I especially enjoyed Amber/Cuicatl (the rock star) and Elizabeth (the lesbian). The rest of the book was a little slow going at times, but I think that’s largely because I’m not a fan of contemporary fiction. I did enjoy it, though, and I’ll probably check out more of the author’s books.

From the cover of The Dirty Girls Social Club:

Meet the Dirty Girls – Lauren, Sara, Amber, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Usnavys – six friends whose mutual support and (mostly) admiration society sorts out and celebrates the complications and triumphs in each other’s lives. No matter what happens to each of them (and a lot does), the Girls dish, dine, and compare notes on the bumpy course of life and love. There’s always a lot of catching up to do.