Machado writes in the afterword for this novel,
"In The Dream House is by no means meant to be a comprehensive account of contemporary research about same-sex domestic abuse or its history”.
And yet that is in a way what she has created.. More powerful because of the memoir format in which it is presented.
There are parts of this memoir where you can viscerally feel the fear that Machado feels. The slow grinding down of her spirit from the constant verbal, psychological, and physical violence that she experiences.
I was an instant fan of Machado’s writing after reading her debut, a collection of short stories, "Her Body and Other Parties”. I am happy to write that her beautiful style of writing remains. As well as a powerful piece of literature to bring reader’s attention to queer domestic abuse, it is a joy to read. In no way does this feel like a flat, black and white memoir. Machado lets the metaphors fly.
“It is the early months of 2011; marriage equality is smouldering, catching fire in some states, doused with water in others.”
“She has a raspy voice that sounds like a wheelbarrow being dragged over stones.”
“but she touches your arm and looks directly at you and you feel like a child buying something with her own money for the first time.”
“She leans away and looks at you with the kind of slow, reverent consideration you’d give to a painting. She strokes the soft inside of your wrist. You feel your heart beating somewhere far away, as if it’s behind glass.”
Beautiful vivid writing that continues through the whole memoir.
We find that at thirteen, Machado was a devout Christian. In her own words, “obsessed with sexual purity”, She not only went to church, but enjoyed it, and firmly believed that Jesus was her saviour. Then when she was sixteen along came a new associate pastor, Joel Jones. Joel Jones slowly but surely built up a strong bond between himself and Machado. Increasingly they would meet at venues, like diners at two in the morning, just the two of them. Machado, young and innocent fails to see that Jones has broken down the walls that should stand firm and solid between them. The walls of minister/congruent, adult/teenager, teacher/student. When Machado leaves for college, we find out that Jones has been fired as pastor for having an affair with a parishioner. He finally answers Machado’s phone calls to tell her he is alright, and Machado never hears from him again. Did Jones ever stop for a minute to realise the damage he had done to Machado? The mental torture that he put her through. Did he ever consider the destructive impact his actions would have on her life? Did they have any?
At college she meets and falls in love with another female student. Things could not be any better until one day when she leaves the class to go to the bathroom, she finds a girl weeping and she finds out that the girl has been raped. Machado stays with the girl for two hours talking and comforting her. When Machado and her girlfriend drop the stranger home, things start to go sideways. Her girlfriend erupts violently screaming at her to never do that again and that she did not know where she was. She pounds the dashboard with her fists to emphasise the point. Machado is at first more bewildered than afraid. Where has this violence come from?
As time goes on, it only gets worse. The girlfriend is obsessed.
After they have met their respective parents. Things slowly get worse. One day the girlfriend pinches her arm and maintains the pinch getting stronger and more painful. The girlfriend has taken the first step crossing the line from emotional abuse to physical abuse. However, it is the psychological abuse that is the most destructive.
For me this almost feels like an avant-garde form of memoir with Machado approaching each chapter from a wide variety of different perspectives. Exploring events from her past in the form of films, novels, science fiction tv series. At times it feels bizarre, but it works amazingly well. With each chapter you feel like Machado has hammered another point home about the lack of exposure, the scarcity of archival records of queer domestic abuse. With each chapter she seems to be emphasizing that this abuse is happening even if is not recorded, and that why should there be any difference from heterosexual abuse or any form of abuse anyway.
I loved this book, I think that it is brilliantly written, and that Machado is an extremely intelligent and gifted writer, delivering a powerful and important message. 4 Stars!
Carmen Maria Machado's debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize, and the Crawford Award. In 2018, the New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as a member of "The New Vanguard," one of "15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century."
Her essays, fiction, and criticism have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta, Tin House, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The Believer, Guernica, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Michener-Copernicus Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the CINTAS Foundation, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife.
There is a nice interview with Machado from Entertainment here - https://ew.com/author-interviews/2019/01/15/carmen-maria-machado-in-the-dream-house/
And a great interview with her from Vulture here - https://www.vulture.com/2019/09/carmen-maria-machado-in-the-dream-house.html