In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Publication Date: Subject: Biography & Autobiography
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Book review by Tor Ferrante
Carmen Maria Machado has won awards in the past, one of them being, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction for her other piece of work, Her Body and Other Parties. Machado continued to write in the realm of the LGTBQ+ community for her recent novel, In the Dream House, published by Graywolf Press in 2019. Her newest release strives to unravel the turmoil in which she endured abuse from her girlfriend and how, in a way, she still lives through it today. Machado twisted the typical definition of a memoir and constructed a style in which the vignettes stray from the norm of a chapter book and her frequent switch from point of view is injected for narrative purposes.
The vignettes placed non-chronologically and utilizing this tactic allows for the reader to get snippets of memories from her abuser from various perspectives. We also glean that abuse can stem from all different angles and be masked over by different names to try and hide the fact that it occurs, for example, “Dream House as Star-Crossed Lovers.” In that snippet of Machado’s relationship we are made to believe that they are happy-go-lucky, but something is holding them back from fully being together and that is the abuse coming from Machado’s girlfriend. Machado does not use flowery language to describe the abuse. The rawness of the word choice in her memoir make her unapologetically her, which she wants to reiterate time and time again since she was made to believe that she needed to do the apologizing.
Machado criticizes the fact that stories of queer abuse are erased or not recorded in cultural history. Her stance on abuse and disguising it, especially abuse between two women in the queer community, is exemplified in her vignette: Dream House as Prologue. In this vignette, Machado explains the idea of “archival silence.” Machado explains this concept further by stating, “… sometimes stories are destroyed and sometimes they are never uttered in the first place; either way something very large is irrevocably missing from our collective histories.” The sad ironic twist in this situation is that the people that archive such stories are not the ones that go through the abuse, especially queer abuse. In this memoir, Machado fights against the silence to portray how her abusive relationship was real and how abuse can exist in any relationship.
The point of view switches in the memoir is particularly effective. Machado implements, “I” and “you” throughout the novel. She tells the story from the first person perspective to relay her first- hand encounter of the abusive relationship. Using first person allows her present self to reflect on her past relationship. What is interesting is that the usage of “you” can be seen as a direct address to us, but more importantly, simultaneously refers to Machado speaking to her past self with her abusive relationship. Having these switches of perspective leaves the reader jumbled on which way they should be receiving the memoirs. This technique is great because it allows the reader to truly enter in the mind of Machado’s construed thought process that her girlfriend forced upon her throughout the duration of their relationship; her girlfriend reveled in the fact that she gaslit Machado into being the insane one.
Machado unknowingly created a safe Dream House for victims of abuse. In the beginning, we have the original Dream House consisting of hellish nightmares from her girlfriend. Towards the end, we are presented with a new Dream House that allows other victims to come together and not be discouraged to talk about their own stories in fear that they aren’t “believable.” Like Machado wrote, “My tale goes only to here; it ends, and the wind carries it to you.” She is welcoming us to share our stories.