Do you ever think about the patriarchy and get your fists balled up a little? My past two reads, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Bodies and Other Parties and Linda Holmes Flying Solo, couldn’t be more different in concept, but I’d say that both of them push against the cishetero-patriarchal notion of womanhood. I’ve been familiar with both authors and wanted to pick up these books for some casual summer reading. But reader, both books cut deep.
Her Bodies and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Her Bodies and Other Parties is a collection of short stories. I don’t know if body horror is the right genre to describe it; it’s just how I expect an onscreen adaptation of it might go down. I’d read Machado’s In the Dream House before and decided to place a digital hold after hearing about this collection in a Phoebe Bridgers interview. It’s certainly a heavy read, that’s for sure. Still, it’s one that’s evocative and clever and sensual, all tied together with a dual current of sadness and love, if that makes sense.
My favorite stories include “The Husband Stitch” and “Real Women Have Bodies.” I don’t want to veer too much into spoiler territory, but I just found both stories so clever (especially with the Alvin Schwartz “Girl With the Green Ribbon” allusion in the former). I will say that both, in very surreal ways, explore the social expectations imposed upon bodies. “The Husband Stitch” follows the life of a woman with a green ribbon on her neck, whereas in “Real Women Have Bodies,” women across the nation start physically deteriorating until they’re completely transparent or invisible.
Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
I’ve been a fan of Pop Culture Happy Hour since forever now, and I remembered really liking Linda Holmes’ debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over. So when Flying Solo came out, I was ready to pounce at the first available library copy! It’s a very quiet, slice-of-life book wrapped in a central mystery around a decoy duck. Laurie, a wildlife journalist, finds herself cleaning up her Aunt Dot’s estate in her small hometown, not long after canceling her wedding. As she’s on the cusp of 40, she reflects on what it means to be a single woman at her age, especially as she visits her friend June, who’s happily married with kids, and tries to clean up the house belonging to her aunt, who fearlessly and adventurously navigated life as a single woman up to her nineties. Oh, and her hot librarian ex Nick just so happens to still live there.
The duck decoy plot was fun, but it wasn’t why I felt drawn to the book as a whole. I think what I loved most was how lived-in all the characters felt. The dialogue was witty and warm, and you really buy the relationships between all of the characters. The friends to lovers to second chance love situation also drew me in, and I appreciated how realistic and grown up it felt. Holmes carefully carves out ways in which relationships become complicated even when there’s no party in the wrong.
It’s a very grounded story that has a When Harry Met Sally kind of feel to it. But what I loved was how independent and self-aware Laurie felt. A traditional route of marriage and kids wasn’t necessarily something that she wanted—and that’s totally normal and fine.
I know it’s a tad strange to put these two books in conversation with each other. But I read them consecutively and couldn’t help but draw the connections between them!