Credit: Charles Deluvio

A book that changed my life: Her Body and Other Parties

By Lena Schega

Lena relates Maria Machado’s short stories to her own experience growing female in modern society.

Her Body and Other Parties came to me in quite an unexpected way. But after all, there’s a reason why they say the best things happen when you least expect them. To be honest, at first, I didn’t even think I would like the book much, or that it might have the power to change my life – come on, someone’s life is a fairly huge entity. It certainly isn’t something that can be changed with the flip of a page and a stack of words. Or is it? I guess for a book to change you, it has to touch your soul in a way that it has never been touched before. For a book to change you, it has to become a part of you after you read it. 

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short-story collection describes the alienating experience of being a woman in today’s society. The stories within the collection, though they differ in content and form, are all in conversation with each other, crawling right under the reader’s skin. Machado’s stories are lovingly crafted with great attention to detail and delicate word choice. Her writing is undeniably political, queer, enchantingly raw, and equally fearless. At times, even uncomfortable as the writing descends into madness – or should I say, into truth? Each story surprised me, shocked me, and still managed to unexpectedly make me laugh. With her ambiguous storytelling, Machado reinvented fairy tales and incarnated them with veracity, reminding me of long-forgotten bedtime stories that stayed with me night after night. 

As a work of speculative feminism, Her Body and Other Parties does not accuse, but rather shows with distressing detail and smart analogies the limited space society sees fit for a woman. For example, in Machado’s short story The Husband Stitch, she describes the relationship between a woman and her husband, who repeatedly oversteps boundaries and eventually ends up killing his wife. The story showcases not only an abusive husband, but also a woman who fails to enforce personal boundaries. This reminded me once again of the absolute necessity of trusting my own voice.

Having read Machado’s work feels like having an ace in my back pocket. As a young girl, I always thought I could fit right in with the boys for the rest of my life. It was not because I felt like one, but because they were doing all the things I thought were fun, and other girls my age did not interest me. For some time, I felt proud of the fact that I was not like “those other girls” (I don’t even know what this statement means nowadays), for I never felt like I belonged with them anyway. That eventually changed as I got older, and I discovered the beauty and the power of being a woman, as well as its consequences.

I guess what drove me to fall prey to such nonsense earlier in my childhood was the way women were depicted by society. In Her Body and Other Parties, Machado masters the ability to play with those contradictory ideas and confronts the reader’s darkest parts without shame, only to illuminate them with forgiveness and humility. The book made me embrace the women in my life even more, and it felt like an opportunity to reclaim the hidden parts of myself. 

When rereading this book, every now and again, it still manages to surprise me, for Machado’s work urges its readership to peel layer after layer off of the story’s core, without ever reaching total certainty. Still today, I cannot put into words how exactly this book changed me, but I know that it did. For those that are still wondering about the how, it only takes you to find out.


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