by Emma Hyndman

A short story collection that reads like poetry. Convincing stories that walk the line between fiction and reality just enough fiction to keep the reader captivated.

Digging into Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Stories” after a friend picked it out for me as a gift was the perfect unsettling but deeply meaningful read for this month. The short story collection has been on my list since it was first published in October 2017. After devouring the entire collection cover to cover over the course of just one weekend, I can already tell I need to go back and re-read the stories one at a time.

In honor of Women’s Month, it was important to me to pick a book written by someone who identifies as a woman and tells stories from that perspective. However, Machado implicitly shows the reader that the category of woman is complex and beautiful because it intersects with sexuality, race, and more. The featured protagonist in each story isn’t the typical straight, white, cis-gendered woman. Better yet, she is often unlikeable, or at least far from perfect. There is a juxtaposition between the characters, grounded in honest and realistic portrayals, and the absurdity of the backdrop described in each story. While this can create some discomfort for the reader, it’s refreshing to read something that has the ability to bring out such strong emotions.

Strong themes related to sexuality, conflicting emotions, pain and love link the stories to each other but they stood alone in the message they wanted to convey and the respective developing plot. While the genre could be described as science-fiction, Machado’s writing is funny in a dark way, with stories that are just absurd enough that they could be adapted into an episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. The psychological realism she employs leaves the stories sitting in my mind, long after I’ve moved on to the next one.

Intensely emotional, this is a book of stories I will keep coming back to, not just because the stories are well written and interesting, but because of the way they made me feel.

I found myself captivating from the first page of the first story and tore through each one, barely breathing before starting the next. While it’s not easy to limit yourself to reading one story and walking away, it’s the perfect book to pick up and read at the same time as another novel. For these reasons, I would give Machado’s “Her Body and Other Stories,” 4 out of 5 stars; it is haunting yet beautiful.

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