I picked up Carmen Maria Machado’s book of short stories Her Body and Other Parties (Amazon | Indiebound) after seeing it on the National Book Awards shortlist for fiction. The title first drew me. I looked up to see who Machado was and found she’s a queer Latinx (yes!), which made me want to read her work even more. And whoa. As soon as I finished one story, I knew I was in for a wild, beautiful ride.
The first story on the book called The Ribbon was my first introduction to Machado. Hers is a concise but weighty voice, one that told the story but kept important details hidden. It was both what she is and what she isn’t saying that drew me even closer to the text, a kind of magnetic pull impossible to resist.
I think it’s also in the way she writes about women in the book, filled with audacious desire and a wonderfully overwhelming presence that had me enthralled. They were eerie in their brilliance, as if something hummed underneath the story line.
It is also in the way she writes about the feminine and the body, the way she memorializes each emotion that stuns me. Machado’s wordplay is impeccable, subtle and jarring at the same time.
In Mothers, she writes about the struggles of a queer family: the highs and lows of intimate relationships, the challenges of co-parenting or really, parenting in general, the life cycle of love between two women. The protagonist in this story at first did not know whose daughter she was taking care of, until finally realizes that it is hers, and once, theirs as a couple. The child becomes a painful symbol, slowly evolving into a beacon of hope, a representation of everything good.
In spite of the heartbreak, Machado was able to capture the beauty and sanctity of queer, brown love, something that resonated so strongly with me (and with all the other QTPOC people I know). I was entranced with this particular passage, an homage to (almost) every thing I love, so sweet, so reverent, so thrilling in its grounding truths:
The other stories in the book featured Machado’s own experience as a resident in an artist’s colony, wherein she interrogated what that meant. There was also an extensive and quite subversive experimental story about the popular show Law and Order: SVU, wherein she listed different episodes while recreating what could be the show’s stars love story.
Overall, I enjoyed Machado’s book, reveling in the freshness and depth of her voice. In a time when the narrative is run by an incredibly hetero-normative, ultra-masculine figure at the top, these stories that explore, challenge and widen the perspective of what it means to be a woman is critical.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.