My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Date Read: November 4th, 2017
Published by Graywolf Press, October 3rd, 2017
Verdict: Beautifully written, poignant, sad, feminist short stories with a supernatural side.
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 doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
I was really looking forward to this book ever since I saw a review by Roxane Gay for this; then when I read and loved one of these short stories earlier this year I was even more excited – and I was not disappointed in the least. I absolutely adored these stories and what Carmen Maria Machado has to offer. She writes just the kind of slightly unsettling and very upsetting short stories that I just adore. Her stories are twisted and mean but also beautiful beyond words. They have a core feminist message while also being stylistically awesome and never losing sight of the humanity at the core of them. The stories are highly inventive, can be read both as a social commentary and often as love stories, her characters feel real and her language is precise and wonderful.
As is usually the case I adored some stories more than others but overall this was a very strong collection and I can absolutely understand the praise it has garnered (it has been blurbed by Roxane Gay and Jeff VanderMeer among others).
I loved “The Husband Stitch” (this is the story I had read before), maybe even more so the second time around: this inventive rumination on what secrets women are allowed to keep made me mad and sad at the same time.
In “Inventory” a woman looks back on her past lovers as the world comes to an literal end around her. This story felt very different than the rest of the collection but I loved its wistful melancholy and the bleak surrounding Carmen Maria Machado evoked.
My favourite of the bunch was the novella “Especially Heinous”, written as short blurbs for a TV show (think “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” ) filled with ghosts with bells for eyes and doppelgängers that are eerily similar but very creepy. This story was unsettling and creepy but also packed an immense emotional punch.
PS: This is book is so beautifully produced; the pictures online do not really do it any justice.