As part of my New Year’s resolution, I resolved to read a book each week. Another implicit reading goal was to read more books written by women of colour. One week into 2018 I have yet to drop the ball. Week one, book one.
Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of short stories, a finalist for the National Book Award, is about women, often queer women, whose bodies are scarred, bandaged, stitched together, broken, disintegrating, dissembling. The state of their bodies is the result of a culture whose expectations for women are exacting, indefatigable, unreasonable, abusive, violent. The women in Machado’s stories are asked to conform, to be, to give, to give, to give, until their bodies, in one way or another, cease to exist.
Machado tackles the issue of domestic violence in queer relationships, the quest for thinness, the expectations of women as wives and mothers. Her stories are dark as hell-how could they not be given the topic?-and perhaps fit most readily into the magical realism genre; fantasy, fairy tale, myth figure prominently.
I’m haunted by the collection’s opening story, titled The Husband Stitch, which draws on the story of the Girl With the Green Ribbon Around her Neck, and recounts the story of a woman whose husband is quietly and malignantly insisting. After she gives birth and is floating in and out of consciousness, she overhears her husband as he asks for an “extra stitch” from the doctor. The violence of this request is amplified by the doctor’s response. In hushed and conspiratorial tones, he assents to the request, assuring the husband that he “isn’t the first”.
The language in rich and lyrical, with beautiful descriptions that stretch for pages. And yet, the same part of me that groans when the characters in the “The Office” leave the office, tired of the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. I found myself craving a story about two people living in an apartment; perhaps some Karl One Knausgaard. But this is probably more a reflection of me and my own predilections, than any failure on the part of the author.
I give this book 4 out of 5 pug tails! (No pugs were injured in the writing of this review).