In the Dream House: A Memoir
“Welcome to the House of Machado; enjoy the view as the floor gives way,” said Parul Sehgal in The New York Times. In her new memoir, the “blazingly talented” Carmen Maria Machado puts her own twist on the haunted-house trope—and many others—while examining from all angles a same-sex relationship that turned abusive. The book is “a hive of frenetic experimentation, tactics, and tricks,” with each of its chapters taking a different genre form: horror story, sci-fi, even stoner comedy. It’s as if Machado were “holding a ring of keys, trying each of them in turn to unlock a resistant story.”
Don’t let the experimentation scare you away, said Julia Klein in The Boston Globe. “This is a stunning book, both deeply felt and elegantly written.” The title refers, at the simplest level, to a pretty house in Bloomington, Ind., that Machado shared several years ago with a charismatic fellow creative writing student shortly after they met and fell in love. But in this fairy tale, “the idyllic soon turns ugly.” Machado’s lover begins displaying flashes of anger and possessiveness, erupting in profanity and throwing things. She belittles and plays mind games with the author. At one point, Machado barricades herself in the bathroom as her pursuer pounds the door.
Machado, who escaped the relationship in May 2012, doesn’t pull off all of the maneuvers she tries here, said Katy Waldman in NewYorker.com. In one chapter, she muses on famous Disney villainesses while imagining that her memoir will be attacked for demonizing a gay woman. But “Machado is taking huge formal risks,” and more often than not she triumphs. Few stories of queer domestic abuse exist, she writes, both because of historic constraints and because of a reluctance in the LGBTQ community to share unflattering portraits. In order to make sense of what happened to her, Machado must invent ways to describe it. Her shifting perspectives and approaches “achieve a full, strange representation of the subject.” This is a book that recognizes “we are more than what happens to us; we are also the scripts we use to imagine ourselves.” ■