In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a poignant memoir detailing the inner turmoil the author experienced whilst suffering through unbearable psychological abuse from her lesbian partner. It is a creative and riveting look at the cycles of that abuse and their effect on the author.
The story is a complete arc that begins and ends with the euphoria of love. Sandwiched between this, however, is a traumatic tale of a relationship that degenerates over time as it becomes more abusive. Yet it is not merely a description of these events. Machado whisks you along on her journey via short and creative vignettes, choose your own adventures, and twists on fairy tales, that create such an overwhelming sense of emotion and empathy and even catharsis.
The tale is not just a description of events. It is inventive, and evocative in its content. It is deeply introspective, providing the kind of insight into the raging sea of emotions the author swam through – the love, the guilt, the confusion, the fear and trepidation – that will shatter you, but also maybe heal you or even vindicate you. And, it is also about a story about hope and survival. This is a brutally honest, incredibly insightful memoir that I will not soon forget.
Being a memoir, this is an extremely intimate view into Machado’s life. She shares her personal struggles as she tries to unpack her past, trace the downward spiral of her relationship and come to terms with how the experience has affected her.
The Writing Style
The writing bounces between first person narrative and third person metaphors. Steeped in imagery, Machado progresses a linear narrative in a slightly convoluted fashion—alternating brutal truths with delicate, almost ephemeral situations. There is one truth here, one narrative, but many lenses. It is in allowing the reader to see the love/abuse/struggle through each angle that we gain the full perspective, and the full horror, of the timeline.
This story is highly relatable and is one of the few if not only narratives that I am aware of that showcases these types of female abuse patterns. We can pretend it doesn’t exist, turn the other cheek, but Machado proves over and over that pretending will not make it disappear. It is this eye-opening revelation that I found to be the most significant pro of reading this book.
The book is about psychological abuse and while I found it to be a helpful and insightful read, there are scenes that could be triggers for someone that has experienced similar situations. But the potential for healing is so great that I would recommend at least trying it.
The book is particularly important for those in same sex relationships. As Machado notes, abuse in these types of relationships can look very different than that in heterosexual relationships, and often flies under the radar of both law enforcement and the victim. It is critical for all queer people to understand the differences and learn to see the warning signs, both for themselves and for their family and friends. Verbal abuse and social abuse are just as damaging, if not moreso than physical abuse and are far more common tools employed by lesbian abusers. Along with that comes the (much more commonly understood) themes of image curation, acquiescence, and fear that victims face, in this narrative, brought into direct light for us to see, acknowledge, and understand. This story can benefit every reader.
Excerpt from In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
I daresay you have heard of the Dream House? It is, as you know a real place. It stands upright. It is next to a forest and at the rim of a sward. It has a foundation, though rumors of the dead buried within it are, almost certainly, a fiction. There used to be a swing dangling from a tree branch but now it’s just a rope, with a single knot swaying in the wind. You may have heard stories about the landlord, but I assure you they are untrue. After all, the landlord is not a man but an entire university. A tiny city of landlords! Can you imagine?
Most of your assumptions are correct: it has floors and walls and windows and a roof. If you are assuming there are two bedrooms, you are both right and wrong. Who is to say that ther are only two bedrooms? Every room can be a bedroom: you only need a bed, or not even that. you only need to sleep there. The inhabitant gives the room its purpose. your actions are mightier than any architect’s intention.
I bring this up because it is important to remember that the Dream House is real. It is as real as the book you are holding in your hands, though significantly less terrifying. If I cared to, I could give you its address, and you could drive there in your own car and sit in front of that Dream House and try to imagine the things that have happened inside. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you could. No one would stop you.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9781644450031
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Carmen Maria Machado Online
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