28 pages 56 minutes read

Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties

Fiction | Short Story Collection | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Her Body and Other Parties is a short story collection published in October of 2017 by debut author Carmen Maria Machado. The collection, which moves between the genres of fantasy, horror, and satire, was shortlisted for the 2017 National Book Award Fiction Prize and the International Dylan Thomas Prize. It won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, the Shirley Jackson Award, the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize, and the Bard Fiction Prize, among others. In 2018, The New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as one of the most remarkable books by women in the 21st century. An FX television show on the book is currently in development. Carmen Maria Machado is also the author of the acclaimed 2019 memoir In the Dream House. Her work has appeared in such outlets as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, and Harper’s Bazaar.


Plot Summary

Her Body and Other Parties consists of eight short stories that examine the psychology of women in contemporary society. In “The Husband Stitch,” the protagonist contends with her husband’s desire to touch the green ribbon around her neck, which holds her head in place. After meeting her husband as a teenager, the protagonist decides that he is the only man who will fulfill her sexual desires. However, as time wears on, his curiosity about her ribbon increases, posing a threat to her livelihood. At last she lets him touch her ribbon. As he unwinds the ribbon, her head falls off.

In “Inventory,” a young woman chronicles her romantic exploits as a deadly virus threatens to kill off the human race. Finally, to avoid the virus, she must move to a remote island. The short story “Mothers” locates the protagonist at the end of her relationship with an abusive lover named Bad. Bad has just dropped off Mara, whom she claims is their daughter. While caring for Mara, the protagonist recalls the beginning and end of her relationship with Bad, in which Bad physically abused her. The protagonist takes Mara on a trip, and when they return to their house in the Indiana woods, it looks neglected. A family the protagonist does not recognize enters with a now 11-year-old Mara and her younger brother.

“Especially Heinous” retells seven seasons of the television program Law and Order: SVU. In Machado’s retelling, Detective Olivia Benson is haunted by the ghosts of women whose murders have gone unresolved, and Detective Elliot Stabler obsesses over his wife’s rape, despite her wishes not to talk about it. Halfway through the retelling, Benson and Stabler are antagonized by rival detectives Henson and Abler. After a long pursuit, Benson and Stabler finally overcome their rival doppelgangers and solve the mysteries of the murdered women.

“Real Women Have Bodies” tells the story of a shop girl at the fashionable mall boutique Glam. After starting a romantic relationship with her coworker Petra, the protagonist discovers that “faded women,” women who slowly lose their bodies, have been sewn into the dresses that Glam sells. After the protagonist quits, Petra starts to fade. When Petra fades completely, the protagonist goes to Glam and attempts to free the women from the dresses. However, they will not move.

“Eight Bites” follows a woman as she decides to undergo a risky weight loss surgery. After having the surgery performed, the woman notices that the specter of her old body still lives in her house. Though she is disgusted by the body, she gets used to it. Many years later, as she is dying, she realizes how cruel she was to her old body. In “The Resident,” a writer revisits the scene of her queer awakening and childhood humiliation during an artist residency. After being accused of using stereotypical tropes against women in her work, the woman decides to go home. She realizes that the lessons she learned only strengthened her sense of self.

The protagonist of “Difficult at Parties” struggles to maintain normalcy in her relationship with her boyfriend, Paul, as she deals with the aftermath of a traumatic event. In an attempt to reignite their sexual relationship, the protagonist and Paul attempt to watch porn together. However, the protagonist cannot watch it with him. Instead she watches it alone. She begins to hear the thoughts of the porn artists in the film. She and Paul attend a housewarming party where she gets drunk and steals a camera from a fellow party guest. After telling Paul that she knows he is unhappy, the protagonist reluctantly initiates sex with him. After having sex, she begins to play back the recording of their sexual encounter, listening to hear their thoughts.

Related Titles

By Carmen Maria Machado