It’s tempting to compare this book to What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah. Both are debut short story collections from diverse authors, and both blend contemporary and speculative fiction. I enjoyed both, and I’m not a big reader of short stories normally, but I’m coming to appreciate them more.
Machado’s book has received much critical acclaim, but I found it a bit uneven (where I liked all of Arimah’s stories). There were two stories in Machado’s collection that lost me completely, because of their experimental nature (“Mothers” and “Especially Heinous”). One was written in the form of synopses of TV detective shows. I didn’t finish these stories so can’t comment on them beyond finding the style offputting.
Many of the stories are powerful, haunting, and original. The first, “The Husband Stitch,” is about a woman who marries and has a ribbon around her neck; the husband is cautioned never to remove the ribbon. “Inventory” is about love and sex in the time of a fatal virus. I loved “Real Women Have Bodies,” about a young woman who sells prom dresses in a mall to teenagers. She lives in a time where women have started disappearing, literally. One day they are lighter and lighter, and then gone.
I also appreciated “Eight Bites” about women’s self-image and our relationship with our bodies. In it, an overweight woman struggles with the decision to have bariatric surgery and her difficult relationship with her daughter.
“I will cry as she shuffles me away from myself, toward a door propped open in the salty morning. I will curl into her body, which was my body once, but I was a poor caretaker and she was removed from my charge.”
I like stories about writing, so I enjoyed “The Resident” about a writer who gets a grant to live at an artist colony and is visited by memories of her past. In it, Machado writes about word meanings. I loved this line: “What if you colonize your own mind and when you get inside, the furniture is attached to the ceiling?”
And “Difficult at Parties” was haunting, about a character who has survived a sexual assault and is struggling to recover – and recovery means learning to own her sexuality again.
“I wish I could say that I remember, but I do not remember. I can imagine pumping limbs and mouths on mouths but I cannot remember them. I cannot remember ever being thirsty.”
Machado’s writing is visual and sensual. Rather than write about something directly she tends to come at it in new and interesting ways. I found this book an interesting read, and many of the stories are quite memorable. Though I do recommend the short story collections by Lesley Nneka Arimah and Nafissa Thompson-Spires over this one.