In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a beautifully written memoir in which Machado documents her experience in an abusive same-sex relationship. In fact, I love the way the book was written so much, I'm going to use a similar writing style for this book review, although, mine does it no justice.
The Dream House as An Invasion of Privacy
This book was written in a way that made you feel too close for comfort to Machado-- but in a good way. The amount of sheer vulnerability required to write something as personal as this is incredible. In what seemed like a humiliating account of one of the most traumatic experiences a person can have, Machado details her experience in an abusive same-sex relationship to a person who seemed to be the woman of her dreams. The woman she refers to as the Woman in the Dream House unleashes some of the most hateful acts of ownership that one could only relegate to a form of psychosis.
The Dream House as a Contradiction
In In the Dream House, Machado compares her tumultuous love story with a myriad of novels, movies, historical cases and folklore to illustrate her experience and dismantle the myth of lesbian Utopianism that employs hetero-normative societal inferences and stereotypes about relationships and abuse. Machado uses stories, both fact and fiction, that depict lesbian relationships as inherently harmless and without flaw-- a misconception that has often resulted in the dismissal of the possibility that abuse (real abuse) can exist.
The Dream House as A Chamber of Secrets
The issue with abuse that is not physical is that the scars often last longer. The other issue, which Machado often points out is that the abuse is harder to prove, making verbalizing your abuse seem useless. What happens when that abuse also comes from a woman in a time where same-sex relationships are oddly still taboo? Patriarchy insists that we understand that women are docile and incapable of harm, especially harmless-looking upper middle class White women with blonde hair and blue eyes. Who do you run to when this person is the administrator of your torment? How do you explain why you keep coming back? How do you verbalize the insecurities that subconsciously make you feel like you deserve it? How do you explain that this is as good as it gets for you.... but it hurts? Will anyone listen? I mean, really listen? Instead of finding out, you lock yourself away in the proverbial and literal dream house until this dream house collapses, because that's all you can do. Where is your strength?
The Dream House as Unanswered Questions
In the prologue of In the Dream House-- if you're allowed to call it a prologue-- Machado explains that the "house" in some ways represents the archive, which is at the mercy of the archivist. So with that being said, was this the whole account? Although the answer is almost obviously "no", I can't help but to imagine what's been removed, what's been hidden, what's been replaced with her own internalization of what happened to her. What became of the Woman in the Dream House? Did the archivist ever seek therapy? Did Machado ever find the opportunity to address the pats in her that are still bruised from the relationship with the Woman in the Dream House? Have she and her wife discussed the implications of this on their own marriage?
The Dream House as a set of Conclusions
Machado opens up about how unfortunate it is that domestic abuse cases in same-sex relationships have rarely been documented, which causes confusion and furthers the perpetuation of stereotypes. This "silent archive" in which she contributed now has new voice that is so full of detail, research, theory, artistry, and true intellectual genius. Hopefully this book will start a thread of similar work from perspectives of which we have yet to witness. Hopefully this will be helpful to others who have found themselves in similar situations, that have-- hopefully up until now-- been difficult to verbalize thoroughly. Carmen Maria Machado has provided language, where there has been none.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I knew it would be decent, based on all of the feedback, but I didn’t know it would be this great. This book was gorgeously written and shockingly educational. Carmen Maria Machado is a literary artist.
I’d also like to point out that Machado added a “choose your own ending” portion to this book that I was in love with. Ugh!!! The artistry!
"This is how emotions work, right? They get tangled and complicated? They take on their own life? Trying to control them is like trying to control a wild animal: no matter how much you think you've taught them, they're willful. They have minds of their own. That's the beauty of wildness."
In the Dream House Themes:
Hetero-normative views in same-sex relationships
Politics and Marriage
Have you read In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado yet? Is it on your list? Share your thoughts. The people want to know!
Until next time,