IN THE DREAM HOUSE : a memoir

by Carmen Maria Machado

Paper Book, 2019

Status

Available

Publication

[S.l.] : GRAYWOLF, 2019.

Description

The author'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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sturlington
Machado has written an incredibly powerful book that does three amazing things all at once: It makes the nebulous but horrific experience of emotional abuse feel palpably real. It exposes the hidden world of women abusing women in lesbian relationships and examines without flinching all the uncomfortable questions that raises. And it does something completely new with the memoir form. If it had achieved any of these three, it would be worth reading, but that it can do all of them is an extraordinary achievement.… (more)
LibraryThing member dcoward
A beautifully written book looking back at the author's emotionally abusive relationship with her lesbian partner.
LibraryThing member ozzer
This book is hard to categorize. Machado spends little space on traditional memoir things like her greater life experience. We learn precious little about her backstory. Instead, she focuses on an abusive lesbian relationship that she faced as a young woman. This traumatic experience was indeed life-altering for her, and this book seems to be her attempt to come to terms with it. The result is more a meditation on the meaning of abusive relationships in general, and among homosexual women in particular, than a straightforward retelling of the circumstances.

Machado lacked context for her experience primarily because she was in a lesbian relationship. “Our culture does not have an investment in helping queer folks understand what their experiences mean.” Also, since both participants were women, it did not associate well with #MeToo notions of power in abusive relationships. The scarcity of a literature on homosexual abuse notwithstanding, Machado was eventually forced to conclude that her experience “was common, that everything that had happened to me — a crystalline, devastating landscape I navigated in my bare feet — was detailed in books and reports, in statistics”

Machado’s inventiveness and her fearless honesty distinguish this book from other memoirs. She tells her story in fragments; each short chapter views her experience through a different lens; the genres keep shifting; and the literary forms multiply, even including footnotes about folktales, ogres and fairy princesses. Machado’s honest treatment of her humiliation is undeniably disturbing and makes for an unsettling read. One is constantly left wondering why she keeps returning for more abuse. The answer seems clear: her partner is everything Machado thinks she is not. She is beautiful, wealthy, bright, witty and worldly. Also, she is manipulative and may, in fact, be psychotic. In this context, one can’t help but think of the joke: “Denial is more than just a river in Africa.” By cleverly switching to second person narration, Machado suckers her reader into becoming an unwilling accomplice. However, her failure to place her abuser’s psychological damage into some context is disturbing because it tends to leave one confused about assessing blame. This is not a balanced presentation of the facts of the case. Instead it is an indictment of one party by another.

Despite moving around a bit, the primary setting is a house in Bloomington, Indiana that Machado refers to as “the dream house.” This place is preeminent not only because it is in the title, and the place where much of the abuse occurs, but also because it seems to be an important metaphor for Machado’s understanding of the trauma. It’s a castle keep where the abusive princess resides, a circle where the cycle keeps turning, a trap, and a place where Machado compulsively returns.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
As a piece of writing this is very well done. My issue with this is the same issue I have with all memoirs which is separating the quality of the book from the author's personal story. It is very difficult not to form opinions or even judgments on the persons actions. I may sound a bit harsh but come on...it's a memoir. When you put all your most personal moments on the page for the whole world to read, you have to expect that people will have opinions. In the case of this book, I got a bit weary of the continual bad decisions or inappropriate reactions that the author made on almost every page. The whole book was a series of situations where her partner treated her horribly and as far as I could tell, she said and did absolutely nothing about it. Pages and pages of victimization. As a personal story, it didn't offer me much but I do think Machado is a strong writer with a creative flare. It was just the memoir aspect of this book that didn't work for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member brenzi
I knew absolutely nothing about this book before I read it except that it was a memoir on several end of the year "best of" and was getting rave reviews. I like to go into books with little knowledge to avoid, well, you know.....spoilers of any kind. Sometimes this leads to all sorts of eye opening reading experiences. This was one of them.

It seems that Machado has created a new sort of genre with this book that relates her experiences with with an abusive partner as they worked through a lesbian relationship. To cut to the chase, Machado has set up a most unusual format for this memoir in which she she is blindingly honest in her explanation of exactly how she managed to get through what was obviously a horrific experience for her. And she doesn't hide the fact that she could've, should've gotten out of the relationship several times but somehow couldn't do it. It made me feel that she was so real, so human, because I could picture myself doing something very much like that.

The writing is beautiful and I could hardly stop reading wondering how long she would put up with this woman who was making her life hell. The format, as I mentioned, is very unusual. She compared the Dream House, where they thought they would be so happy, to a number of tropes and headed each section of the book with that metaphor: Dream House as Confession, as Bildungsroman, as Noir, as Here Comes the Bride, as High Fantasy, as Doppleganger, as Demonic Pissession, as Unreliable Narrator and on and on. Absolutely brilliant. And somehow left me feeling unexpectedly hopeful and joyful. Very highly recommended
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LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
This is a holy shit, can't stop reading, what a jaw-dropping book kind of book. It feels weird and voyeuristic, almost, but it was written to be read. It's not only about Machado's abusive relationship, but about the history of abuse in lesbian relationships. It's also just amazing writing. Everyone should read it.
LibraryThing member wandering_star
This is a fragmented memoir about being in an abusive relationship. As such, it's sometimes a tough read (the abuse is mostly emotional/psychological, but occasionally physical). And yet it's the sort of book I want to go around recommending to people. It reminded me a little of Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation, a novel about divorce told in a similarly fragmentary manner. I think that works for these two stories because the structure creates a sense of 'how did I end up here', so far from what the narrators were expecting at the start of the relationship.

In the Dream House gives us a series of short images and episodes from the relationship - from the first excitement of lust and love, through the loved one's increasingly unpredictable behaviour, to terrible scenes of rage and jealousy.

You will remember so little about the dinner except that, at the end of it, you want to prolong the evening and so you order tea of all things. You drink it—a mouthful of heat and herb, scorching the roof of your mouth—while trying not to stare at her, trying to be charming and nonchalant while desire gathers in your limbs. Your female crushes were always floating past you, out of reach, but she touches your arm and looks directly at you and you feel like a child buying something with her own money for the first time.

And later:

The next day, after you say good-bye to your friends, you sit in the car in the parking lot as she talks at you—your friends hate me, they’re jealous. An hour later you are still there, your head bent tearily against the window. The new bride walks by and notices you in your car. You see her slow down, her face crimped with puzzlement and concern. You shake your head ever so slightly, and she looks uncertain but mercifully she keeps walking so you can endure your punishment in peace. By the time you’ve wound out of the mountains and gotten back to a freeway, the bite of the fight has sweetened; whiskey unraveled by ice.

Some of the episodes are told in stylistically clever ways, which could have seemed gimmicky except that there is always a reason for it which takes you back to what Machado is saying, and which makes sense emotionally. A short chapter which is a 'lipogram' (without the letter 'e') makes a point about what it's like when there is something huge that you can't talk to anyone about. A chapter in the form of a 'choose your own adventure story' conveys the sense that no matter what Machado did, it wasn't right, and there was no way to break out of the cycle of fights and anger.
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LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
"A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to."
-Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House

This is a remarkable memoir, both as a piece of art and as a social commentary. It's construction is unique to any memoir I've ever read - each section is related to a different fairy tale, or work of folklore, or popular story - and while the narrative jumps in time and space, it culminates in such a way that the reader feels connected to the story in a deep and visceral way.

Carmen Maria Machado is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. Her work is always complex and emotional, and more than a little otherworldly. I can't wait to see what she brings next.

TW: emotional abuse
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LibraryThing member msf59
“Love cannot be won or lost; a relationship doesn't have a scoring system. We are partners, paired against the world. We cannot succeed if we are at odds with each other.”

“The truth is, there is no better place to live than in the shadow of a beautiful, furious mountain.”

“You cried in front of many people. You missed readings, parties, the supermoon. You tried to tell your story to people who didn’t know how to listen. You made a fool of yourself, in more ways than one.

“When the historian of queer experience attempts to document a queer past, there is often a gatekeeper, representing a straight present.”

For many years, Carmen Maria Machado was locked into an abusive same-sex relationship. A nightmare, she had a hard time pulling herself out of. In her debut memoir Machado, describes this experience, in exquisite and painful detail. It can be a difficult read at times, but her writing is so bold and gorgeous, it guides the reader safely past the ugly passages. I loved her story collection, Her Body and Other Parties and with this one, she has proved to be a voice to be heard. I can't wait to see what she does next.
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LibraryThing member lazybee
In the Dream House is a beautifully written and constructed memoir of and reflection on an abusive relationship.

Rather than going through events in a linear way like most memoirs, it breaks the story down into fragments and intersperses it with reflections on the larger context in which the relationship happened - gaslighting and the movie the term comes from, other writing about abuse in lesbian relationships and its absence from most discussion of domestic violence, the author's experience writing the book.

This is so beautifully written, and so original and thought-provoking. I am sure it will stay with me for a long time, and I will definitely read everything else Machado writes.
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LibraryThing member nancyjean19
Machado does an amazing job of contextualizing her experience in folk motifs and queer history, while keeping the reader tightly bound to her emotional experiences. While this is of course a critical entry into the archive of domestic abuse experiences, I think this memoir will also resonate with anyone who has ever tried to excavate why they stayed in a bad situation. Fascinating and beautiful.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
A lovely, yet haunting memoir from Machado. Her writing is stylistic and engaging. Her ability to connect pain through metaphors and allusions is astounding. However, her story is painful. So although I loved the memoir, I know it's not for everyone. In many ways it reminded me of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body which is another profoundly emotional memoir… (more)
LibraryThing member Narshkite
Sometimes when I sort of hate a book I can write pages about it. Sometimes when I love a book, really love it, when it dazzles and surprises me, expands my understanding of what language can do and what structure means and what it does not mean, and leaves me better and wiser for having read it, I find I don't have the language to say very much at all. What I can say is something that will make this sound boring, and it is so completely not boring that in defines the opposite of boring. So here I go -- Machado starts by telling us about the importance of the archive, and of the archivist, and then becomes the archivist. Its a tiny archive, but the foundation is here, the foundation that creates the crack where the light will get in. Oh, and it has a happy ending.… (more)

Language

Original publication date

2019-11-05

ISBN

9781644450031

Local notes

biography, memoir
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