In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Published November 2019 by Graywolf Press
Carmen Maria Machado traces the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, and struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
Prismatic, engrossing, and wildly inventive, In The Dream House is Machado’s account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse.
If you need this book, it is for you.
The form, language, and dark humor. This a memoir like no other. We know from reading her short stories that Machado is a master storyteller, and we are fortunate to witness her literary gifts in action.
Each chapter is titled after a trope – Dream House as Soap Opera, Dream House as Murder Mystery, Dream House as Comedy of Errors, and so on – and can be as short as one sentence or one paragraph (appealing to the microfiction writer in me), can be in second person at times, and can be in an unexpected form, such as a Choose Your Own Adventure.®
Footnotes detail folklore origins of each trope, such as “Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, Type T92.4, Girl mistakenly elopes with the wrong lover” in the chapter Dream House as Doppelgänger.
But don’t make the mistake of writing these off as gimmicks. They’re not. The writing is powerful, evocative, and unique to Machado. It doesn’t get any better than this.
The beautiful, original storytelling and the author’s vulnerability in holding nothing back.
Some chapters read like a thriller, causing goosebumps as you read about the sometimes sweet, sometimes menacing antagonist, who is never named, whom the author calls simply “the woman in the Dream House.” (The Dream House is the university-owned, isolated home where the woman lived while attending a graduate creative writing program.)
After a four-sentence opening chapter that makes fun of prologues, Machado discusses the “violence of the archive,” also called “archival silence,” about stories that were either destroyed or “never uttered in the first place.”
She concludes the chapter with “I enter into the archive that domestic abuse 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.”
This work confirms Machado as one of my favorite authors, one I can study and learn from in my own writing practice.
After I finished reading this memoir, it haunted me for days, weeks…and then I returned to the beginning.
I needed this book.
What Others Say
“[Machado] doesn’t contain our terror, she stokes it and teaches us about it.” – Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“Wrought with alarming premonition, propulsive rhythm, and a trove of folkloric archetypes, Machado’s genre-crushing memoir is a meditation on the eclipse of knowledge and intuition by the narcotic light of a destructive bond that feels like love.” – Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces
“What makes this book truly exceptional is how Machado creates an archive where, shamefully, there is none.” – Roxane Gay, author of Hunger
From the chapter Dream House as Epiphany: “Most types of domestic abuse are completely legal.”
From the chapter Dream House as Self-Help Best Seller: “I imagine that, one day, I will invite young queers over for tea and cheese platters and advice, and I will be able to tell them: you can be hurt by people who look just like you.
“Not only can it happen, it probably will, because the world is full of hurt people who hurt people. Even if the dominant culture considers you an anomaly, that doesn’t mean you can’t be common, common as fucking dirt.”
Carmen Maria Machado is the author of Her Body and Other Parties, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize.
In 2018, the New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as a member of “The New Vanguard,” one of 15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century. This short story collection is being developed into an anthology TV show.
She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is the writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she lives with her wife.
This review was also published at Secrets of Best-Selling Authors: http://www.KatherineValdez.com
Katherine Valdez loves to read and write about books. She laments the proliferation of reviews that give away too much of the plot.
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