Carmen Maria Machado’s work is the current literary spectre haunting my brain. I’d hope she’d take that as a compliment, testimony of the way her work has made root there and refuses to leave. An excellent example of genre and form-defying writing, Machado’s work should be on everyone’s bookshelf.
Seamlessly blending genres and embedding her own life into the dystopian and spectral worlds that she creates, the 35-year-old writer has earned various accolades for her two published bodies of work. Her Body and Other Parties, published back in 2017 was the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award and a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. Two years later, her memoir In the Dream House was published and has since picked up the 2021 Folio Prize and Lambada Award for LGBTQ+ nonfiction.
The narratives created by Machado are dark, witty, and necessarily unsettling and perfect for those who want more than just a fairy tale ending
Sitting at a juncture of sci-fi, dystopia, horror, fiction, and reality, Machado’s work is hard to encompass with a single descriptor. Plagues make women vanish from sight, pleasure and intrigue drive husbands mad, and gastric bypass surgery waste survives incineration. Sex and destruction are almost paramours throughout her work that can be described as gothic, graphic, and great at enthralling readers.
The ghosts in these stories aren’t cartoonish or friendly like Casper yet are not completely driven by murderous intent – they are often extremely human, making them all that more unnerving. Drawing upon the themes such as gender relations, sexuality, religion, identity, and body image, the narratives created by Machado are dark, witty, and necessarily unsettling and perfect for those who want more than just a fairy tale ending.
Equally as inventive as she is in her play with genre, the form of Machado’s work is also fluid and compelling. For those who spend their time thinking about the power of a well-placed word or an excellent sentence – poets, novelists, songwriters, scriptwriters, journalists – Machado’s work is a master class in writing. Everything in the way she crafts her work lands the perfect emotional chord that it is meant to.
Her Body comprises of eight short stories that each take a different approach to creating a narrative. As Machado plays with form, the ability to draw you into the unique literary spaces she creates within remains a constant. Able to build up intriguing worlds and characters in often less than 100 pages, Her Body shows that brevity isn’t a barrier to creating an excellent story with a good author.
Making references to domestic abuse in Her Body, Machado uses her second book to write more extensively about her experience with “the woman in the dream house.” Through combining essays on films, ‘choose your own’ video game formats, mind palaces, déjà vu, and appendixes to point out the folklore omens interwoven into her experience of abuse, the dreamhouse is expertly crafted around the reader.
She does not stray from showing every part of the queer experience across her work, affording LGBTQ+ victims of abuse a voice
As you read through the pages it becomes strikingly apparent that the book is more than just one woman’s story; is a vital tale that documents queer domestic abuse, where both the victim and perpetrator are female. Here Machado grants queer agency in being bad without equating homosexuality with innately evil, the memoir is not only a text working to encompass the multifaceted experiences of queer people but also an archival document on queer abuse.
Lust, villainy, love, volatility, joy, empathy, and everything in between are seen as part of the queer experience across Machado’s work. She does not stray from showing every part of the queer experience across her work, affording LGBTQ+ victims of abuse a voice and dismantling the narrative that queer people are perfect citizens committed to creating utopia. For LGBTQ+ readers, the tales told by Machado reaffirm a nuanced humanity that is rarely found in queer literature.
As she continues to contribute to collaborative anthologies and magazines, lovers of Machado’s work hope that Her Body and In the Dream House won’t be the only books she publishes. Taking you into a liminal space with her work – suspending you between literary and reality, genre and conventions of writing – Carmen Maria Machado also occupies a unique space as a writer as she tests the potential of writing with brilliant results.