Poets & Writers

DREAM HOUSE as interview

FOR some writers the line between fantasy and reality is so fluid, they are able to uncover the poignant truths that can be found in that fringe space in between. This borderland is the realm of fantasy and horror writers like Shirley Jackson and magical realists like Jorge Luis Borges, two inspirations for Carmen Maria Machado, the author best known for her debut collection of speculative short stories, Her Body and Other Parties.

Magical realism, or nonrealism, is also fertile ground in which to write about ideas and identities that are generally muted or oppressed in dominant society. In a piece in the Atlantic that appeared shortly after her first book was published by Graywolf Press in 2017, Machado, a queer woman of Cuban descent, said nonrealism is a way of insisting on something different. “It’s a way to tap into aspects of being a woman that can be surreal or somehow liminal—certain experiences that can feel, even, like horror,” she said. “It allows you to defamiliarize certain topics like sexual violence that some people might unfortunately dismiss as ‘oh, just another story about rape.’ Nonrealism makes room for mythic expressions of the female experience and I think can be a way to satisfy the hunger for narratives in which women have rich inner lives.”

Machado’s stories often feature women suffering violence in relationships or simply exploring love and sex amid the collapse of society in which communal and interpersonal horrors blend together. Readers found love, sex, queerness, violence, and dystopia throughout Her Body and Other Parties, which the New York Times included in its “New Vanguard” list of fifteen books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the twenty-first century. “There is abundant, utterly hypnotic invention in these stories,” wrote New York Times critic Parul Sehgal, “but it’s the psychological realism at their core, their depictions of the everyday violence visited upon women, that gives them their otherworldly power.”

Despite being rejected by close to thirty publishers both large and small

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