Thanksgiving break is fast approaching, which means winter break is right around the corner, too. With it comes the highly debated winterim — otherwise known as “I’m paying how much per class?”
I, personally, have a hard time sitting around doing absolutely nothing for an entire month and need some sort of activity to save me from existentialism. While they are expensive, a winterim class was the perfect solution for me.
One I took a few winters ago — and by golly, it sure is winter now — was ENGL 274, The Short Story: (De)Constructing Gender in Contemporary American Short Stories, taught by Molly Patterson.
What a time that was.
This was an incredibly alluring alternative to whipping the drool off my chin while rewatching “Avatar the Last Airbender” for the fifth time since the pandemic — but hey, that’s just me.
My salvation during those dark, cold days was a collection of short stories assigned to us written by Carmen Maria Machado titled “Her Body and Other Parties.”
Composed of eight short stories, Machado explores themes such as womanhood, female sexuality, beauty standards, relationships — specifically the unhealthy ones, and much more.
Can you tell I have written a paper or two about her?
I would describe Machado as the lovechild of Roxane Gay and Audre Lorde, who later went through one of those it’s-not-a-faze-Mom moments and never really outgrew it. With an added dash of feminist eroticism in the mix for good measure, voila, Machado is born.
And, just so we’re clear, I use “erotic” in the way Lorde defines it, not in the more connotative sense of “pornography.”
I would classify Machado’s work to be horror. Stories like “The Husband Stitch,” “Inventory” and “Eight Bites” do a phenomenal job of capturing the style Machado has become renowned for.
“Eight Bites,” in particular, scared the bejeezus out of me while reading it for the first time. The story follows the protagonist, who undergoes gastric bypass surgery, an operation intended to aid in weight loss.
Machado puts a “fun” twist on the concept by making the lost weight, fat, skin and other parts into its own character — one that is alive. It is described on page 165 to be “a body with nothing it needs no stomach or bones or mouth. Just soft indents. … She is awful but honest.”
When I read her description, I thought the poor creature was innocent and helpless, so naturally, I was shocked — and a little disturbed — when the protagonist proceeds to beat the living — yes, living — daylights out of this soft puddle of mush.
The lost weight was somehow, in my mind, still part of the protagonist, or at least connected in some way, and I saw this to be a great act of self-harm and violence.
Machado has this way of taking seemingly mundane prospects, like gastric bypass surgery, and turns them into something mystical and eye-opening concepts. And all of her pieces are like that, too.
I mentioned “Inventory” earlier — that one covers the story of a pandemic (keep in mind this was published in 2017) but is told through a list-like fashion, detailing the protagonist’s romantic encounters leading up to and during her struggle to survive.
Like, what? How does someone even come up with that?
While the spooky season has come and gone, if you are a fan of horror or would like to dip your toe into the pool, I highly recommend “Her Body and Other Parties.”
Machado has multiple books and short stories out in the world — her memoir, “In the Dream House,” is stupendous, or so I hear. I have yet to read it, but you best believe it is on my list.
Here’s another fantastic queer, female POC author to add to your TBR.
Schutte can be reached at [email protected].