Short Stories 366:215 — “The Resident,” by Carmen Maria Machado

coverI’m not sure I’ve ever read a story as grounded in identity and self-reflection as I have as “The Resident,” in Carmen Maria Machado’s amazing collection Her Body and Other Parties. This is a very discomforting story, with—as is often the case with these stories—a simple narrative set-up: an author has won a place at an artist’s residency, and she goes to take her place there to write her novel. There is an unfortunate coincidence that is, I believe, barely an aside at the start of the story, that she has been here before, when she was much younger (as a brownie), but there’s a tremor of something in the declaration, and is later revealed to be much more important than it seemed.

I don’t want to spoil this story at all, so it’s hard to speak in more than broad strokes, but this is a story about a woman who’s thoughts and feelings and sensory reactions to the world run high and immediate; she glances at a doorway, for example, and immediately dislikes it, knowing it will take time for her to conceptualize exactly why, and mentions almost in passing that this is a facet of her personality her wife doesn’t always understand. She also falls into spirals of thoughts around specific words: first resident, and later colonist. Both fracture and shift her frame of reference to how one exists in their own head versus the perceptions of others, and these passages are some of the most incredibly well-written moments in the collection as a whole. I loved them.

Ultimately, this is a story without a solid closing, and while I think some readers might find that a bit of a let-down, I found myself oddly relieved. More, the voice shifts to directly interact with the reader, to ask questions I honestly felt even less confident to answer after the story than I would have before, but somehow more informed about the ideas as a whole. It’s basically a brilliant piece. (Also, this story has one of the best—and I mean, emotionally satisfying on a visceral level best—take-downs of someone dismissing this woman as “crazy” that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.)

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