A revolutionary memoir about domestic abuse by the award-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope—the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman—through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.
Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Carmen Maria Machado, the author of the brilliant and startling short-story collection Her Body and Other Parties, turns to memoir for her second book. With In the Dream House, she reflects on her romantic relationship with a woman who was psychologically and emotionally abusive. Machado is brave and vulnerable as she leads readers on a tour through her “dream house,” the physical and metaphorical location where her relationship bloomed and unraveled. The book’s unique structure—chapters are written in different styles that evoke fairy tales, thrillers, and other genres—allows Machado to weave in information about the history of domestic violence in queer relationships, a topic that hasn’t gotten much attention. Thanks to the strength of Machado’s writing, the book is witty and original, powerful and raw. We’re grateful to her for sharing her story with us.
In this haunting memoir, National Book Award finalist Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) discusses the mental and physical abuse she was subjected to by her girlfriend. The book is divided into short, piercing chapters, in which Machado refers to the victimized version of herself as "you." ("I thought you died, but writing this, I'm not sure you did.") Machado discusses meeting the girlfriend (her first) in Iowa City, where Machado was getting her MFA. She masterfully, slowly introduces unease and dread as the relationship unfolds. The girlfriend turns threatening if Machado doesn't immediately return her calls, starts pointless fights, and inflicts physical discomfort on Machado (squeezing her arm for no reason, for instance). The hostile environment turns utterly oppressive, yet Machado stays, becoming further disoriented by someone who inflicts harm one minute and declares her love the next. Machado interestingly weaves in cultural references (to movies like 1944's Gaslight and 1984's Carmen) as she considers portrayals of abuse. She points out that queer women endure abuse in their relationships just as heterosexual women do, and queer abusers shouldn't be protected: "We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented." The author eventually leaves her toxic relationship behind, but scars remain. Machado has written an affecting, chilling memoir about domestic abuse.
A painfully true account of living through intimate partner abuse
I needed this.
How can you sum up Carmen’s work? You can’t. But I was deeply moved by her story, outlined by prose that changes and shifts in the most brilliant of ways. A combination of detailed, heart-wrenching domestic abuse, a literary review of queer theory on the topic and an exercise in dynamic writing. My heart is with you, Carmen. What a beautiful piece of work this is.