In one called ‘911’ we hear the voice of the caller and a very weird one at that: “Look it’s just that I’m walking around feeling like I’m going to vomit out my own toenails, and I want to die, and I want to kill someone, sometimes, and I feel like I’m on the verge of dissolving into a puddle of organs and slop. Organ slop.” A pause. “Um, that’s–that’s–I’m sorry. Look, I just called to report a vandal in my neighbourhood.”
This is writing that unsettles, messes with your head, mixing up horror with queer writing with realism with fantasy and steamy oodles of erotica, not forgetting the little touches of sci-fi, myth, new myth and out-and-out invented myth. Machado manages a daring syncretic resolution between being a synthesist and a complete and utter original as there are stories incorporated here you could swear you’ve read before but they’re not as you first heard them, or even as you now remember them.
Through its pages you enter a skewed world, one pretty much hanging off its axle but a world almost always bound up in the corporeal realities of the human body and its legion desires and exigencies. So, in ‘Inventory’ which is precisely that – a list of lovers in recollection – we can taste their skins and palp their lips or encounter a man ‘with a boa constrictor tattoo on his back with a misspelled Latin phrase below it’ or defy a rapine National Guard member even as the story also tells us about the spread of a killing virus throughout the land.
This is easily one of the most inventive collections of the millennium and the arrival of a literary voice that sounds as if it’s been there all along, since we all started reading. Which is part of the trick. She uses known forms of story telling but completely and utterly subverts them. Then there’s Machado’s imagination, which is a fecund and febrile place and her stories singularly and collectively seem as if they’re necessary for these times of shifting truth and presidential deceits. We should let the trumpets sound, to welcome this book with congratulatory and uproarious cacophony. Maybe fireworks too. This is one heck of an arrival, a talent both blaring and unconquerably alive. A brilliant book.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado is published by Graywolf Press.
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