I am a big fan of Machado’s writing — her collection My Body and Other Parties is one of my favorite books, and definitely made me aware that I do enjoy short stories, especially when they are written by her. She is very experimental in her prose, while she never sacrifices the heart of the story for the structure, which I really appreciate. So I naturally got In the Dream House as soon as it was published and I am so glad to report that I absolutely and utterly adored it.
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s inventive memoir, in which she explores an abusive relationship she was in with another woman, written in a series of differently narrated chapters, with an overarching thread of exploration of abuse in queer female relationships.
How many times had you said, “If I just looked a little different, I’d be drowning in love”? Now you got to drown without needing to change a single cell. Lucky you.
It’s always hard for me to review non-fiction books, especially memoirs, because it’s hard to evaluate someone’s personal experience in such a manner. However, I can confirm that I really adored this book. This is an incredibly personal and visceral account of an abusive relationship that Machado was in, and it was so heartbreaking to read about. I felt that the slow progression of the abuse was devastating. The memoir is told both from the first and the second perspective, so it’s structured as if Machado was talking to her past self, which allowed at the same time to the author to both bare her soul and personal experience, but also to establish distance and to look at her past self as if she were talking about a whole other person. This also feels cathartic for the narrative — the past is laid open, but also left behind where it needs to stay.
I enter into the archive that domestic abuse between between partners who share a gender identity is both possible and not uncommon, and that it can look something like this. I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.
While this is really vulnerable and personal, the author also manages to stay completely self-aware throughout the book. She sets out not only to tell her personal story, but also to tell a story about intimate partner abuse in queer female relationships. She draws on myths and folklore and history to portray the reality that women can and do abuse each other, so the book acknowledges her own experience while also transcending it. The book never loses this meta-narrative frame which I find only adds a whole new layer to this book.
But the nature of archival silence is that certain people’s narratives and their nuances are swallowed by history; we see only what pokes through because it is sufficiently salacious for the majority to pay attention.
Finally, I found the literary invention and the sole feat of this memoir remarkable. Machado uses a string of literary tropes (from lesbian pulp novels to gothic literature, to the haunted mansion) to tell her story. It’s so inventive and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and I was in awe all throughout this reading experience. This was also true for her short story collection, but here it takes a whole new shape and form because the narrative stays so personal and close to the reader. I really loved that.
I could not recommend this more. Machado solidified herself as one of my favorite writers, but beyond that, this is important and sad and it brings light to a topic that is almost never discussed. I will be thinking about this book every day. I hope you do pick it up.
I would love to hear from you! Have you read this one or Machado’s short story collection? Do you want to share any thoughts? Let me know!
In the meantime, happy reading
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