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Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

51CKN9MHYFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

I’ll begin by saying what I want: a world where we can all recognize that women are the true and most honorable proprietors of horror writing.

I’ll begin this way because I think Carmen Maria Machado proves it. In order for horror to be truly horrifying, it has to be earned. It has to dig into the sensitive skin under our fingernails, on our bellies, the places where we store our most reasonable and our most plausible fears. The ones that, when touched, send out a sharp alarm in our brains, and we realize we’ve been waiting for this moment to come.

Machado reminds us in her debut collection that horror is the vessel for our violence, our selfishness, our monstrous qualities, our lack of empathy – and that those qualities exist in all of us, in varying measure. Machado writes into this political moment, in particular, where we are reminded every day that even our own bodies (or for many of us, especially our own bodies) are not safe territory. But she writes, also, into horrifying realms that have troubled us for centuries – into motherhood, memory, loss of love, loss of self, secrecy, ghosts, and the draining, day-to-day reality of living in a female body. The result is a cheeky, utterly contemporary take on not only what scares us now, but on what should scare us. It is at once entirely personal and entirely political.

One of the most strikingly relevant moments for me came in Machado’s first story, “The Husband Stitch,” where she retells the classic campfire tale about a woman who hides her severed head by securing it to her neck with a ribbon. She writes in the final moments, when her husband plays with the strings of the bow she has asked him never to touch:

“Resolve runs out of me. I touch the ribbon. I look at the face of my husband, the beginning and end of his desires all etched there. He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt. He is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep disservice to him. And yet –” (30)

It is hard not to see this overstepping of boundaries alongside the nearly endless number of accusations of sexual harassment that came after the global storm of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo campaign. But Machado adds something that I think global movements like this often lack – that is, the nuance of personality, of what it means to be good and to be bad. It is easier, after all, to condemn one man than to say that every man is the product of centuries of social and political norms which teach us that women don’t deserve to have boundaries in the face of male desire. It is easier to say that one man is evil, or twelve or twenty or fifty men are evil, and to give those men names and faces. But it is more horrifying to say that even good, faceless, nameless men – even husbands, even fathers, even grandfathers and uncles and brothers – will take without asking. That even the men you love will ask too much, and by asking will whittle away the boundary that was so difficult to build in the first place. And they will do it without realizing they are dismantling anything. They will do it because they have been taught that women’s boundaries are malleable. Machado reminds us of that here, as the ribbon and the head and the person-hood of the narrator rolls to the corner of the room.

And there are other horrors, too. The fatty, faceless remains of a body altered by bariatric surgery. Invisible girls hidden in the seams of prom dresses. The surreal interplay of memory and self during a feverish writing residency. But there is beauty, too. Machado begins “Eight Bites” with the beautiful and surreal recollection of a body under anesthesia:

“As they put me to sleep, my mouth fills with the dust of the moon. I expect to choke on the silt but instead it slides in and out, and in and out, and I am, impossibly, breathing.

I have dreamt of inhaling underneath water and this is what it feels like: panic, and then acceptance, and then elation. I am going to die, I am not dying, I am doing a thing I never thought I could do.” (149)

My favorite of these stories was “Inventory,” in which a woman makes note of each of her sexual encounters as the world is consumed by plague. “One woman.” “One man.” “Two boys, one girl.” The horrors are there, in the corners of her partners’ yellowing eyes, but the coupling is the primary focus of the story. Machado writes most beautifully about loneliness here, and about the ways that we can continue to live despite the disasters on our doorsteps. Ultimately, this is what I appreciated most about Machado’s stories – they were about survival as much as they were about the horrors of being a woman in the world. These survivals are often small, rarely triumphant. But I love them because they are honest, and hard won. They show survival as a process, rather than a fist raised after villain has been slain. There are, in fact, few villains in these stories. The protagonists are forced to find other ways to prove their strength.

Her Body and Other Parties is an eerie, gross, surreal pleasure. It brings nuance to stories that are often washed out by broader political narratives. It is a playful book, which takes all subjects as fodder and turns them around so that we see the most frightening parts of ourselves, beautifully, reflected.


Buy this book: Indiebound / Graywolf Press

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“Be more bold:” An Interview with Isabel Greenberg

It was our pleasure to interview award-winning graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg, a young British talent whose tales from the fictional world of Early Earth create spiritual, historical, and mythic space for women. We talked about new projects, the role that sisterhood plays in her work, and snagged a few book recommendations.

Continue reading ““Be more bold:” An Interview with Isabel Greenberg”

Review: Gas, Food, and No Lodging by Devi Laskar

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Gas, Food, and No Lodging by Devi Laskar (Finishing Line Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis

The term “interculturality” has been widely used in pedagogic and academic settings to contextualize the interactions between individuals from two or more cultures. Rather than speaking about others and their differences, an interculturally competent individual seeks to establish a dialogue that acknowledges diversity and, at the same time, focuses on aspects that make communication possible and that enable an understanding of another person’s culture. In a world where borders are becoming increasingly porous, more and more writers address these exchanges in their work from a variety of perspectives, sometimes as observers, others as insiders. Such is the work of poets Erika Sanchez, Javier Zamora, Juan Felipe Herrera, Layli Longsoldier, Natalie Diaz, Sherman Alexie, Li-Young Lee or Jaswinder Bolina, to mention just a few. Continue reading “Review: Gas, Food, and No Lodging by Devi Laskar”

Review: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

cawaw-687x1029Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar (Alice James Books, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

I saw Kaveh Akbar read last month under a white tent lit with string lights in Emily Dickinson’s garden. The garden, of course, was not as tranquil as it had been when Emily sat there. Akbar read over a hum of street traffic and chatting pedestrians. At moments, though, it was quiet. Akbar read elegy after elegy – for lost language and lost friends, for a version of himself that drank more and hurt more – and I thought of Emily. “One need not be a chamber to be haunted, / One need not be a house…” Continue reading “Review: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar”

Recommended Reading: 2017 National Book Award Nominees

by Rebecca Valley

In anticipation of the short-list announcement tomorrow, the staff here at Drizzle have compiled a list of our favorite and most-anticipated National Book Award nominees, announced by the National Book Foundation in mid-September.

You can check out the full list here. Winners will be announced in a ceremony on November 15th — which gives you plenty of time to start reading! Continue reading “Recommended Reading: 2017 National Book Award Nominees”

Review: The Voice of That Singing by Juliet Rodeman

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The Voice of That Singing by Juliet Rodeman (Tupelo Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Michelle Mitchell-Foust

Early in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, a child watches the family barn burning behind their country house. It’s raining. His young mother watches too, her back to the camera, the water dripping off the porch awning. Still the barn burns. No urgency, as though a barn burning is a natural part of the landscape. Over the course of the film, in every room of the country house, the watcher has the feeling that the child, the narrator—Tarkovsky’s voice reciting his father’s poems–is living at once every age of his life. Continue reading “Review: The Voice of That Singing by Juliet Rodeman”

Review: Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute

park-bench-9781501154027_lgPark Bench by Christophe Chaboute (Gallery 13, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In April, I visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Los Angeles with my mother. It was an impulse decision – it was hot, Madame Tussaud’s was air-conditioned, and deep down my mother and I are both too vain to resist a good photo shoot. We wandered past eerily life-like figures of Snoop Dogg and Betty White into a gallery of movie sets, where I found the thing I didn’t know I was looking for – a young Tom Hanks in a khaki suit, back straight and feet slightly pigeon-toed, seated on a half-empty park bench. Continue reading “Review: Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute”