Sofia Samatar reviews Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” and her other stories in the LA Review of Books:
The trope of the woman with the ribbon around her neck is an urban legend familiar to many American kids, exchanged at slumber parties or summer camps in the spooky glow of a flashlight. “The Husband Stitch” is full of tales from this genre, pressing lightly through the dominant narrative. There’s the one about the couple in a parked car who listen to a radio broadcast about a hook-handed escaped killer, only to hear the scrape of his hook on the door. There’s the one about the girl who takes a dare to spend the night on a grave, plunges a knife into it to prove she was there, and then, having pinned her own skirt to the ground, dies of fright. Freud’s definition of the uncanny — something familiar that ought to have remained hidden, but has come to light — helps explain the urban legend’s relationship to “The Husband Stitch.” While the narrator tells of sexual awakening, marriage, and adulthood, the ribbon around her neck (which she will neither remove nor explain) recalls the terrible buried knowingness of childhood. Campfire chillers draw their energy from the fact that everyone knows the ending will be horrible, and the teller knows exactly how. In choosing this form for “The Husband Stitch,” Machado represents heterosexual marriage as a horror story whose ending we all pretend we don’t know.
I found “The Husband Stitch” good enough to nominate it for the Hugo, but I hadn’t noticed how much Machado used actually existing urban legends in her story. The urban legend genre is a lot less known on this side of the pond and I hadn’t encountered the examples she apparantly gave in her story. Interesting.
Sofia Samatar is a thoughful, thought provoking reviewer and Carmen Maria Machado’s work is strong enough to reward such reviewing.
(One of the side effects of the whole Sad Puppies mess is that it swallows up a lot of fandom attention that should be spent on making our fandom and science fiction more diverse and open, leaves less room for new initiatives to get attention. Therefore I’ve decided to write one positive post showcasing some book, project or thing that makes science fiction more diverse.)