In the Dream House: A Memoir, by Carmen Maria Machado. Graywolf Press, 2019. 272p.
Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House is a memoir unlike any you are ever likely to read. On the surface, the book is Machado’s account of her life spent in the titular “Dream House,” a pseudonym for her abusive partner. Simultaneously, the work is as a necessary compilation and contribution to the “silence of the archive,” demonstrating the unfortunate reality that domestic violence has the potential to occur in any type of relationship. While the subject matter is at times (and quite understandably) a difficult and heartbreaking read, Machado’s profound gift for prose and genre-breaking approach to autobiography culminates in a mesmerizing and addictive journey.
The overarching narrative of In the Dream House reads like a fairy tale in the Grimmest sense of the term. Crucial and innocuous moments alike become footnotes of folkloric transgressions of taboo and magic, and the reader must follow helplessly behind Machado as she stumbles deeper into the control of her cruel and manipulative girlfriend. The memoir, like Machado’s relationship, quickly unravels into a series of surreal, visceral episodes that will keep readers transfixed. Like Machado’s girlfriend, not everything is named or expressed outright, and each chapter takes as its focus an exercise in genre: moments, memories, and emotions are depicted as tales of mystery, gothic horror, Choose Your Own Adventure, and a particularly memorable and poignant summary of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, to name only a few. Throughout each incarnation of her recollections, Machado’s innovative style and gorgeous writing speaks volumes.
In the Dream House is a worthy follow-up to Her Body and Other Parties, Machado’s 2017 collection of short stories that similarly exhibit her stunning style of interweaving fantasy, horror and popular culture (including a fantastic re-imagining that will forever change the way you think about Law & Order: SVU). Readers may also enjoy The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, another brilliant and beautifully-composed, genre-defying memoir that depicts love and families in their considerable and varying existences.
In her memoir In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado’s search for and preservation of representation in all forms and facets – not only the positive, easy, or expected – is found through an amalgam of recollections, confessionals, meditations on pop culture. It is a captivating and exquisite experiment that should not be missed.
Haley Petersen is a Library Reference Assistant at May Memorial Public Library. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.