- Gabby Womack
In The Dream House: a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Rating: 4 stars
Representation: Queer, Lesbian, WLW
Content Warning: Partner abuse, Psychological abuse, Gaslighting, Homophobia
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. - Powell's Website
This is definitely the most creative and emotionally-wrenching memoir I've ever read. Most memoirs allow the author to be quite vulnerable, but Machado's vulnerability is multiplied by the subject matter (same-sex partner abuse), her identity (queer latinx), and homophobia. It's hard enough for women to be believed when sharing their accounts of abuse, especially when it's not physical, but much harder when the abuse is within a queer relationship.
In the Dream House is extremely well-written and packed with amazing imagery. Machado manages to intertwine her narrative with concepts from philosophy, psychology, film analysis, and more. Some of her references went over my head because they were connected to literature that I haven't read. Regardless, this book will likely stay with me. I felt as though I was living her life with her because a lot of the personal narrative is written as though Machado is telling herself the story.
Clarity is an intoxicating drug, and you spent almost two years without it, believing you were losing your mind, believing you were the monster, and you want something black and white more than you've ever wanted anything in this world.
As an archivist, I love that Machado begins her memoir by laying out the truth of how experiences are validated or invalidated, historically.
Saidiya Hartman talks about the "violence of the archive." This concept─also called "archival silence"─illustrates a difficult truth: sometimes stories are destroyed, sometimes they are never uttered in the first place; either way something very large is irrevocably missing from out collective histories.
In writing this memoir, Machado has brought her story out as proof of the abuse that has been largely ignored or subdued. As if to say, "you're not alone. Here is my story."
This book taught me about the origins of "gaslight" as a verb! I'd never looked into it so it was interesting to see how it went from being an object in films about men trying to "undercut" a woman's sanity to a verb describing manipulating a person in order to make them question their own judgement.
I appreciate Machado pointing out that as minorities, we know that we must be flawless in order to gain "rights we don't have" and be good representatives of our groups so when someone from within our groups plays into a stereotype, commits a crime, or anything else unsavory, we pause before condemning them. We don't want to knock down our own but we also recognize that this person is problematic and hurting their own people. So if we choose to speak up, we are either ignored by the majority and/or shushed by other minorities, especially if those being harmed are women, femmes, transgender, or nonbinary.
In the Dream House is a powerful book that I highly recommend, as long as the reader is aware of the content warnings.