In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Published by Graywolf Press on November 5, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg: 4.61 (as of 2020-02-08)
I wish there was a way for me to intellectually discuss In the Dream House but it seems impossible. This is truly one of the most incredible, gut-wrenching books I have ever read. In this memoir, formatted very differently from anything else you have ever read, Carmen Maria Machado details her abusive relationship with another woman. That alone points to why this would be such a difficult review, but Machado’s skill with writing is truly something I have never seen before. I just counted and I’ve tabbed 17 different pages with quotes or scenes that dug deep into me — and that was me trying to restrain myself.
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.
God, even just reading through these tabbed pages to write this review has me on the verge of tears on my couch. There are points at which I merely drew a line down the entire page; there was no way to separate out one meaningful line or set of sentences from their larger context. To me, that’s indicative of an incredible writer. Nothing in this feels extraneous, it all feels essential and imbued with significance.
Even the enduring symbol of queerness–the rainbow–is a promise not to repeat an act of supreme violence by a capricious and rageful god: I won’t flood the whole world again. It was a one-time thing, I swear. Do you trust me? (And, later, a threat: the next time, motherfuckers, it’ll be fire.)
Another impressive aspect is Machado’s ability to set this within its greater context. As a queer woman, it can be so much more difficult to navigate what would already be difficult situations. She speaks to her naievety as a baby gay and the fact that we always see men portrayed as abusers. On top of that, the time period in which this relationship took place was one where lgbtq rights were tenuous and it felt important not to “look bad.” I understand all this, and it feels so important that Machado was able to explain it in such a succinct way.
Do you see now? Do you understand?
In the Dream House will certainly remain one of my favorite books of all-time, I can already tell. I absolutely cannot recommend this enough, but want to emphasize that it is an extremely difficult read and to take care while reading. To me, this book is a place of understanding and a way to process for (particularly queer) survivors of abuse; it is also a place where those who may not have experienced abuse can come to understand it further. I applaud Machado for being able to write this, and cannot wait to see what she puts out next.
You have no reason to believe me.