‘Eight Bites’ by Carmen Maria Machado

I’m obsessed with writing about eating disorders. The narrative reliance on measurements, the questions about self-image, the illustrations of control and the literary gymnastics required to circumvent all of these characteristics and, of course, tired writing about women’s bodies—all of this fascinates me. The sub-genre of the ED short story though (inasmuch it can be said to be one) involves some degree of tight creative self-awareness about the tropes that plague the disorders themselves. And so when I read ‘Eight Bites’, I went very quiet and happy and immediately re-read it, because Machado’s story is a tender ghost story about having to live in a body and having to live with what we put into them and wreck out of them. I don’t know if it’s a short story about eating disorders or not, but what I can say is that it is a story about desire. I think about it constantly, and in particular this scene in a restaurant involving a bucket of cold, stirring oysters. I have never eaten oysters, but it makes me want to. 

First published in Gulf Coast, Summer/Fall 2017. Collected in Her Body and Other Parties. It’s online—read it here

‘A Horror Story’ by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado is the big deal she is for a reason and I could have chosen almost any story from Her Body and Other Parties to illustrate this. ‘A Horror Story’ isn’t included in the collection, but I picked it because of the amount it manages to do in a tremendously small number of words. A couple move into a house and find themselves haunted, though the possible reasons why seem to be ripped from the plots of a hundred horror movies: It turned out there had been a graveyard for criminals on the property where our home now stood. Also, a woman had been strangled by her lover in our bedroom just after the house was built. Also, a man had hanged himself in the attic during the Great Depression. Also, a teenage girl had been kidnapped and held in the basement for a year in the seventies before the kidnapper, who had never bothered offering a ransom, sent pieces of her body to her family in sets of Russian nesting dolls and then burned what remained of her on the front lawn.Taking the haunted house trope and turning it into an exploration of queer relationships, guilt and trust, the story manages to be deeply affecting and eerie whilst always keeping its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

Published in Granta, October 2015, and available to read online here

‘Eight Bites’ by Carmen Maria Machado

I don’t know about you but sometimes when I read a really good story it is like a film playing in my head, sometimes I forget if a scene I can see so clearly in my mind is from a film or a book. Reading ‘Eight Bites’ I can so vividly recall its metaphor made real, a body made of flesh once part of a woman, now cut away but not dead, living inside her house, friendly, soft, alone, abandoned: something, “body-shaped. Prepubescent, boneless […] one hundred pounds, dripping wet.” A body that trying to hide itself but which continues, fleshily to haunt.  ‘Eight Bites’ shows the transformation women’s bodies can go through, the weight seen or not that is carried with them, the pain they can endure. That to be a woman is to inhabit a body that will be appraised, that this is inescapable. Machado effortlessly blends reality and something more real than reality to create a story that embeds itself in your own flesh and leaves you gnawing away at its ideas. A story that asks you to be kinder to your body and embrace it as your own.

First published in Gulf Coast magazine 29.2, Summer/Fall 2017 and available to read online here. Collected in Her Body & Other Parties, Graywolf/Serpent’s Tail, 2017

‘The Husband Stitch’ by Carmen Maria Machado

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 onlinecollected in Her Body and Other Parties, Graywolf Press/Serpent’s Tail, 2017

‘The Husband Stitch,’ by Carmen Maria Machado

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

‘The Husband Stitch’ by Carmen Maria Machado

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