The thing about reading short fiction all year that I love the most is how I get to find incredible stories like this one so often. Found in Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado’s “Eight Bites” is one of those stories that grabbed me almost from the start, and didn’t let to until a few hours after the final words—which echoed around in my head for the rest of the day while I tried to focus on other things (and mostly failed). All that to say, today’s story settles itself firmly on the list of stories I’ve read this year that were above-and-beyond a favourite.
Narratively, “Eight Bites” is deceptively simple a premise: a woman with what many would likely call an unhealthy relationship to food has a gastric bypass. It’s not unusual for most of her family: her sisters have all also done this, and they are supportive of her choice. Her daughter, however, is—to her consternation—decidedly not supportive of the choice. We also learn that her mother had a rigid approach to her own appetite: she allowed herself only eight bites of any food, a method this woman has tried and failed for herself, and so, the bypass.
What follows steps into the speculative with what feels almost like a haunting: the woman realizes someone is around, perhaps watching her. She likens it to a time spent living in a bug-ridden home: the pressure of a gaze on her, searching until she found a bug watching her, then dealing with the bug. But it’s not a bug, but this part of herself she has cut away, forming even as her own body changes, and the text of the moment she first interacts with this being/spirit/force was… incredible. Disturbing, but incredible. Anyway, I know I’ve been crowing about this collection from the start, but let me repeat it again: this collection is fantastic.