Title: In The Dream House (a memoir) by Carmen Maria Machado, read by the author
Published: December 19, 2019 by HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Notes: I received a free download of this audiobook from Libro.fm, which in no way affects my opinions
Noteworthy: Several descriptions of domestic abuse, drug abuse, foul language
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.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading this book. I did think it was going to examine domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships on a wide scale, not as generalized as it did for as long, but the story wasn’t bad.
“I speak into the silence”
The writing was very interesting, as Machado threw in many metaphors and random pieces of information, making some sentences poetic and the others a brutal truth. It is told partly in second person point of view and I had a love hate relationship with that narrative. I understood why Machado did it, and it makes sense to use this style for emphasis and understanding, but I sometimes felt a disconnect from the author and their own story. There was more that could have been told beyond that perspective.
“The idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right, it is simply a state of being. One subject of politics to its own social forces to larger narratives to moral complexities of every kind.”
The message was, like I mentioned, not exactly what I imagined I’d get out of this novel, but it was still raw and beautiful and understanding. Of course, there were times where I felt uncomfortable reading parts about the abuse, and incidents that were borderline scandalous, but the discussion on queer people not being treated as people with both good and bad qualities, or ultimately not being treated as actual people at all, was brilliant. I especially loved Machado’s ideas on the villainization of queer people in consumable media and everyday life.
Overall, I don’t think this book did exactly what the synopsis said it does, as far as touching on topics and having those discussions. It was mostly a story about Machado’s experience in an abusive relationship. However, there were some good discussions, beautiful prose, and wonderful takeaways. I do recommend this book to really anyone who doesn’t mind the possible triggers and is interested in abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships. The audiobook was narrated by the author, which I would also have to recommend, since I felt the author’s own voice added something special to the story. I will be reading the author’s other work, now that I’ve read and enjoyed this memoir.