In “Inventory,” by Carmen Maria Machado, a woman relays a list of all of her sexual encounters while the United States comes undone amidst a pandemic. Like a therapeutic exercise in calming, the narrator faithfully recites all of the things she has done from making out, to grinding, to falling asleep inside of her partner. Still, it is not enough to distract her from the horror and solitary nature of her new reality.
What I find most exciting about this story, besides its whole premise, is the way it is written as a list. In around twenty passages Machado writes quick scenes that span more than a decade in the narrator’s life, and while brief they are impactful. Employing a list as the form feels like an exciting way to tell a linear story in a straightforward manner that still manages to feel fresh.
Another spectacular element of this story is the way it deals with both the foreground and background of scenes. As the story progresses, the pandemic plays a larger role and swells as an antagonistic force, but even still, this largely unfolds in the background and the focus remains around the narrator’s sexual encounters. While Machado does not withhold information about the pandemic, it comes out in a patient trickle that kept me hooked.
Despite being made up of clipped scene that revolve around the narrator’s sex life, the story is glued together by small details. The narrator provides candid insight into her relationship with desire and offers multiple perspectives of her own sexuality and sexual agency. All the while, the world is built upon and made real by little facts like the narrator’s childhood fear of spiders, her dog, the man she loses her virginity to, and many more. When all of this comes together, this story has all of the elements to be explosive, and it is, but that explosion never feels sensationalized because of the even tone of the narrator, paired with her candor, provides the story with stability.
Like so much of Machado’s work, this story is an instantly gripping page turner. More than that, it takes two dangerous and easy to turn cliche topics—sex and pandemics—and crafts them into narrative art. It is a story that I think of often and come back to just as much. Not only because it is exciting, but because it is an interesting adaptation of a standard form that feels fresh in the way that it expands its focus to the background as well as to the foreground of scenes, and how it is broidered with rich concrete details.
If you want to read about sex, this story is for you. If you want to read about a pandemic, this story is for you. If you want to read a horror story, this story is for you. If you want to find your next favorite author, this story is for you.
Like cheese and wine, art can be best when consumed together. Why not try “Hopelessness,” by Anohni with this post.