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Book Review: "In the Dream House" by Carmen Maria Machado

Madeleine Ouellette

Posted on August 2, 2020 17:00

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A haunting, intense memoir about domestic abuse in a queer relationship.

A note: I am using terminology such as "queer," as that is how the author describes herself.

Carmen Machado's memoir, "In the Dream House," combines her personal experiences in an abusive relationship with a deep dive into queer relationships in literature and media. She also highlights the lack of research and representation of queer abuse and the effect that has on the LGBTQ+ community.

Aside from the beautifully written prose and eye-opening research that Machado provides, the book is organized in a way, unlike any other book I've ever read. The book is broken up into short, 1-2 page chapters with the chapter titles all written in this style: "Dream House as Romance Novel," "Dream House as Spy Thriller," and "Dream House as Void" to name a few. I think this set-up allows Machado to move quickly between her narrative and her research, as well as move through time without confusing the reader.

The story of the relationship itself is not written in the first person, which we would expect from a memoir. Machado instead is speaking to her past self, calls herself "you," and uses a second-person perspective. For example, "You sit inches from each other on a green velvet couch, drinks sweating on the coffee table."

Some of the chapters take place in present-day, with Machado talking about her writing process or where she is in her life now and using the first person in these chapters. I think this differentiation between first- and second-person point of view shows the emotional space that Machado has put between her present self and her past, abused self.

Machado also writes a lot about the fact that the most common types of domestic abuse, emotional and mental, are legal. She experienced very little physical abuse with her partner, and even then, she was not able to document any evidence. She writes about the difficulty in proving emotional abuse, saying: "None of these things exist. You have no reason to believe me … What is the value of proof? What does it mean for something to be true? If a tree falls in the woods and pins a wood thrush to the earth, and she shrieks but no one hears her, did she make a sound? Did she suffer? Who's to say?"

Besides Machado's personal experience with abuse, the main point of the book is the lack of belief in straight and queer communities that sexual violence and abuse happens with queer people, especially between women. She discusses the idea of lesbianism being thought of as some utopia, devoid of violence and harm, when, in reality, abuse can happen anywhere, between anyone, regardless of sexuality and gender identity.

Machado's story is intense and heartbreaking, while at the same time full of hope. She is able to write about this experience with hindsight and clarity that time has given her. It is simultaneously tender, powerful, and beautiful, a total triumph.

Madeleine Ouellette

Posted on August 2, 2020 17:00

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Source: NYT

In which we consult the Book Review’s past to shed light on the books of the present. This week: Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting...

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