Read 22 nonfiction books in 2022.
4/22 — In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
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.
Incredible writing. This is someone who is a WRITER – the language and metaphors and symbolism she uses to describe such intimate and cruel abuse absolutely knocked me over. This memoir shows a raw and graphic look at an abusive relationship and also acknowledges and discusses how little the subject of queer domestic violence is talked about.
“Did you say that? Really? You can’t remember saying that or even thinking it, and yet she is letting you know that it was said, and you definitely meant it that way.”
Gaslighting and mental mindfuckery are the worst kind of manipulation. My blood was boiling through many parts. I’m so relieved she was able to leave and to share her story.
“A reminder, perhaps, that abusers do not need to be, and rarely are, cackling maniacs. They just need to want something, and not care how they get it.”
From an interview: Are you still working through what happened, or did writing the book give you a sort of closure?
I don’t think that the purpose of writing a book like this is closure. I wanted to write a beautiful piece of art about something that happened to me. I think my own relationship with the material is unfinished, as so much of our lives are.
About the Author: 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. She lives in Philadelphia with her wife.
What do you think about this book? Have you read it?
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