In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is an all engrossing and harrowing memoir about one of Machado’s previous relationships. Published by a local Minneapolis publisher, Graywolf Press, In the Dream House begins by telling how Machado fell in love with a woman who she saw as a version of her dreams, but as time passes, Machado quickly finds herself in a dangerous and encapsulating relationship. Written in vignettes, Machado’s memoir deals with abuse within a queer relationship which is something that is very rarely, if not never written or spoken about in typical discourse. I believe this book is better read with little expectation and prior knowledge as to help Machado’s message of darkness and survival to truly nest in your mind and soul.
In the Dream House begins with the dedication page of “if you need this book, it is for you.” Going into this book, I was not quite sure what I was in for. I honestly had not read a synopsis of the book, but was recommended this memoir by multiple people after I enjoyed How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. As a result of my love for Jones’ memoir, I knew that any book in comparison would be incredible as well so I picked up a physical copy In the Dream House. However, after reading, I knew that this book was for me as the dedication suggests, and I truly believe that every reader who picks up this thought provoking novel will find something meaningful from it.
Machado quickly begins this novel by introducing readers to the Dream House. What is the Dream House you may ask? Well, with careful afterthought, the Dream House is something that will only be known by Machado herself, but to readers, it seems as though the Dream House is location and a feeling. It represents Machado’s idealistic future, that includes a wife, a home, and a sense of comfort and happiness. But as readers quickly become aware of, the Dream House is completely fictional and Machado’s journey detailed in the memoir is far from idealistic.
“I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice, measure the emptiness by its small sound.”
Machado writes about her relationship with an unnamed woman. Her partner throughout the novel is referred to solely with the use of pronouns which adds to the elusiveness of Machado’s detrimental relationship. However, the most chilling moments is when Machado recognizes how unoriginal her story is but how she was stepping into an abyss that is far too common but never spoken about.
Throughout In the Dream House Machado recognizes how relationships characterized with abuse are solely thought of in heterosexual cisgender relationships, but Machado is quick to correct readers as to how queer relationships, specifically those between two female identifying partners can also be characterized with abuse. Machado very carefully analyzes why the common narrative of abusive relationships are limited to heterosexual couples because of how societal norms associates aggression and certain behaviors to a male partner in a relationship. As a result, queer relationships between female or nonbinary partners are not often taken seriously for abuse allegations and support because these partners are unable to be characterized as abusive. But as Machado reminds us, “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.”
Machado’s story is a difficult read, but a necessary one. It truly is a story that is written for everyone to find meaningful pieces to take into their world moving forward because queer relationships deserve to be embraced in all forms, which includes support for those relationships that are characterized by abuse. Machado’s story is one representation of many that need to be heard to help make meaningful changes to how we as a society view and protect those around us.
With all of this in mind, In the Dream House is a memoir best read in pieces, however, it takes a great deal of restraint to be able to put this book down to savor Machado’s honest and gut wrenching story, so when picking up this breathtaking memoir, be cognizant of what you are about to read but lean in with few expectations.
*When beginning to read this book, please recognize that this story should be read with an understanding of the trigger warnings of physical and emotional abuse.*