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Short Story Month, Day 25: Carmen Maria Machado


Photo of author Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado

"Inventory" by Carmen Maria Machado


I'm reading Her Body and Other Parties right now and only three stories in, which means I've finished "Inventory" and "The Husband Stitch," which is apparently the one people talk about most (it's the reference point for her book cover, even), and for good reason. It's sexy and stylish and certainly unconventional. So is "Inventory," though, so I'd like to contemplate this one a bit longer.

One of the things Rob Roberge likes to emphasize in writing is something he says he got from David Lodge: "Make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange." That is, write the things that are supposed to feel familiar as though they are strange; write things that are supposed to be strange as though they are familiar. There are a lot of great reasons to do this, and I think Machado does it incredibly well in "Inventory." The story starts out sort of quietly as a listing all of the narrator's experiences with sex, which run the gamut from arousal to assault. The tone suggests maybe an everyday rite of passage story, and the blasé attitude towards the character's partners of both genders, sometimes simultaneously, suggests that issues of sexuality and morality are too pedestrian to be the focus.

The further Machado delves, the more we see that the character's experiences are not normal. We're almost fooled into thinking that we're reading realism, only to discover we're in the plot of a post-apocalyptic horror story. I wouldn't say that she's blurring the line between realistic and so-called genre fiction (which makes this sound like magical realism, which it's not); rather, I think she's ignoring the possibility that there is a line at all. She explains the situation so directly, so matter-of-factly that it's easy to believe that it could very well be real. And what she does explain feels less like world building than it does exploring humanity and the various ways we so desperately need physical human connections. Much as I like "The Husband Stitch," I think this story may be more deftly told because it's not flashy the way we expect it to be, but it still makes a serious impact.

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