So, I picked this us like…three years ago? And the first three stories were SO MUCH, that I put it down, and then it sat on my “currently reading” list for a long time, and finally I thought, let’s just do it. It’s October! Time for some creepy short stories.
These are creepy, but not quite horror. They are visceral, gothic-adjacent. Machado’s style is so abrupt and beautiful and precise, but precise like someone is describing something that you can’t quite see, until you see it. Precise like a child describing his nightmare. Precise like the feeling of being sure that you see something moving in the corner of your eye, or the feeling of deja vu. They are about violence and sex and desire and humanity and trauma. They are hard and beautiful and tragic.
The stories are all very good, but some stuck with me more than others. I thought The Resident was remarkably good, but I don’t quite get it, either. The Husband Stitch and Eight Bites were straight up excellent. Inventory and real Women Have Bodies were very, very good. I thought Especially Heinous was way too long, and this significantly blunted its impact. Mothers and Difficult at Parties were also very good and human–the type of writing that you kind of wish everyone would read, especially men, because they were so female, so human, so internal, and real.
I gave the whole collection 4 stars because of the uneven pacing, and Especially Heinous really dulled the momentum for me. Maybe 4.5 would be better. In the epilogue I see that Machado studied under Ted Chiang, which makes a lot of sense–his The Story of Your Life and Others is my favorite book of short stories, and although their styles and topics are wildly different, they have the same superb sense of negative space, of knowing what to leave out, of knowing exactly where to drop the reader. I will definitely be reading more of Machado–although I need to take a break and read something light and fluffy next.