“Putting language to something for which you have no language is no easy feat.”
In the Dream House is such an excellent, beautifully written book that I don’t feel capable of writing a review that does it justice.
Machado’s writing is lyrical and complex and layered, and hearing her read it aloud in audiobook form was transformative for me. She recounts the tale of her own same sex intimate partner abuse, seamlessly weaving in references to history, pop culture, and archival works. The entire time I listened I just kept getting the feeling that I was experiencing something groundbreaking and vitally important. Everyone should read In the Dream House, no matter their age, sexual orientation, race, gender, or typical reading preferences.
“In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’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.
And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope—the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman—through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.
Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.”
Final thoughts: In the Dream House is a brilliant piece of literature, but it is also extraordinarily heavy and difficult to read. I highly recommend you check it out, but please read with care. I found it helpful to take my time with this one and limited myself to a few chapters per day.
Note: I haven’t formally reviewed any non-fiction books yet, but the ‘at a glance’ template I use for fiction didn’t feel right for Dream House, so I’ve adjusted it slightly.
In the Dream House At a Glance:
LGBT Rep? Yes. In the Dream House explores Machado’s personal experience of being in an abusive relationship with another woman.
Own Voices? Yes. Machado is also a WOC (woman of color).
Content Warnings (CWs): Descriptions of intimate partner abuse (both emotional & physical), trauma, gaslighting. Honestly, it’s a very heavy book and it would be impossible to fit all of the CWs into a short list. Read it, but read with care.