The first, and clear standout, story in Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection Her Body and Other Parties is a marvel, uncomfortably confrontational in its sexual politics and frank sexuality. Machado’s narrator tells a story of meeting the young man she knew she would marry, their marriage, the birth and raising of their son, and an inevitable betrayal by her husband whom she loves. She offers all herself to him all except the mystery of what lies beneath the green ribbon tied in a bow around her throat. Inevitably, the ribbon must be pulled.
It is a story in the strong tradition of Angela Carter, of believing, of storytelling, and who is believed and who is not – specifically, why the stories of women are not believed.
The title refers to the extra stitch – never officially documented – sometimes given to a woman after the area between her vagina and anus is either torn or cut during childbirth; the aim to make the vagina tighter than it was, to increase the husband’s pleasure during sex.
First published in Granta 129: Fate, 2014 and available there online, collected in Her Body and Other Parties, Graywolf Press/Serpent’s Tail, 2017
If you were worried, as U.S. Supreme Court watchers worry about the advanced age of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that Margaret Atwood will retire or otherwise leave us without an heir to carry the mantle of the strange, the malformed, the sophisticatedly allegorical, the fantastic, the formally inventive, etc., be advised: Carmen Maria Machado is on the job.
This story, ‘The Husband Stitch,’ has many layers, many revelations, many revulsions, a lot of love on offer, but it saves its greatest, most shocking revelation for its end, and when you get there, you’ll have to rethink everything you know about women and men and marriage and all the social contracts we’ve undertaken or received, and whether love is always worth the price lovers might want to exact in the name of devotion.
From Her Body and Other Parties, Graywolf/ Serpent’s Tail, 2017. Available to read online here
This is the story on the list that I’ve read most recently. The narrator (unnamed, of course) meets her husband-to-be, has lots of sex, marries, bears a son, raises a child. She’s a storyteller but no one believes her stories (by no one I mean the men in her life, of course). All women in this world have a ribbon attached somewhere on their body. The narrator’s is green and on her neck. Her husband is fascinated by it but she won’t allow him to touch it. You know where this has to end but the journey there is entrancing.
From Her Body & Other Parties. First published in Granta and available to read here