2023 book club

may book

Cover of Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Maria Carmen Machado

short stories · magical realism · horror · LGBTQ+ | 200-300 pages

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls-with-bells-for-eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Listen to Machado read the story "Inventory" from this collection.

If you can't get your hands on a copy of the book right away, many of the stories are available to read online where they were originally published: Read "The Husband Stitch" in Granta, read "Inventory" in Strange Horizons, read "Mothers" in Interfictions, read "Especially Heinous" in The American Reader, and read "Eight Bites" in Gulf Coast.

discussion

next club meeting date: June 2 @ 7pm

discussion questions:
  1. The synopsis of the book describes it as a collection of “startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.” Such violence can be intentional (“Difficult at Parties” and “Especially Heinous”), self-inflicted (“Eight Bites”), unrealized (“The Husband Stitch”), or without any identifiable culprit (“Real Women Have Bodies”). Which of these types of violence do you personally find most frightening? Do you think your own reactions to each story would change if you had grown up with a different gender?
  2. Were there any specific times you personally felt unsettled, creeped out, or genuinely frightened? If you experienced any of those emotions, why do you think those specific instances were effective at conveying horror?
  3. With the exception of “Especially Heinous,” every story in this collection has a first-person narrator, but the narrator of each story remains largely anonymous. Why do you think the narrators are so lacking in specificity? What function does this serve in the stories?
  4. The main characters of these stories trend towards passivity–strange things happen to them, outside of their control, while the few choices they do make are either glossed over (“Inventory”) or portrayed with a weighted inevitability which suggests there was no real choice to begin with (“The Husband Stitch” and “Eight Bites”). Do you think this style was effective for the types of stories Machado was trying to tell? Did you ever find yourself irritated or bored, and if so, why? What parts of the stories did you find most memorable and why?
  5. How are the relationships between characters in these stories conveyed to the reader, especially intimate relationships? What features of the relationships are described in detail, and which are glossed over or ignored? What is your opinion on the author’s depiction of sex throughout the collection, specifically in terms of its centrality to romantic or even non-romantic relationships? Also consider this depiction of sex in the larger context of the “complicating clarity” that asexuality and aromanticism have brought to discussions of sex, romance, and attraction.

    Questions from World's Smallest Book Club.

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