Cover Image: In the Dream House

In the Dream House

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Member Reviews

This book broke my heart. It's something I've never read before (but which we absolutely should): domestic abuse within a queer relationship. 

In this memoir, Carmen Maria Machado beautiful shares her story of abuse, weaving in analysis of movies and songs, poems, her own childhood, and queer history. So stunningly structured. And much more accessible than Her Body and Other Parties, which was great, but this memoir knocks that book out of the park.  

I've really never read anything like this memoir before, from the stunning writing to the incredibly vivid imagery. The book is honest and raw and so damn uncomfortable. But you have to read it, in order to honour the bravery that Machado and every single queer person who experiences same-gender abuse. 

I recommend this book to everyone, but do be careful with the content if you can handle it.
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I’m stingy with 5-star ratings because, for me, giving a book top marks means a) it’s a masterpiece, b) it’s a game/mind/life changer, and/or c) it expands the possibilities of its particular genre. It doesn’t just designate a book that I enjoyed a lot or had no specific gripes with – that could be 3.5 or 4 stars. In the Dream House fits all three criteria. (Somewhat to my surprise, given that I couldn’t get through more than half of Machado’s acclaimed story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, and only enjoyed it in parts.)

Much has been written about this memoir of an abusive same-sex relationship since its U.S. release in November. I feel I have little to add to the conversation beyond my deepest admiration for how it prioritizes voice, theme and scenes; gleefully does away with the chronology and (not directly relevant) backstory – in other words, the boring bits – that most writers would so slavishly detail; and engages with history, critical theory and the tropes of folk tales to constantly interrogate her experiences and perceptions.

Most of the book is in the second person, looking back at the self that was caught in this situation (“If, one day, a milky portal had opened up in your bedroom and an older version of yourself had stepped out and told you what you know now, would you have listened?”), as well as – what the second person does best – putting the reader right into the narrative.

The “Dream House” is the Victorian house where Machado lived with her ex-girlfriend in Bloomington, Indiana for two years while she started an MFA course. It was a paradise until it wasn’t; it was a perfect relationship until it wasn’t. No one, least of all her, would have believed the perky little blonde writer she fell for would turn sadistic. A lot of it was emotional manipulation and verbal and psychological abuse, but there was definitely a physical element as well. Fear and self-doubt kept her trapped in a fairy tale that had long since turned into a nightmare. Writing it all out seven years later, the trauma was still there. Yet there was no tangible evidence (a police report, a restraining order, photos of bruises) to site her abuse anywhere outside of her memory. How fleeting, yet indelible it had all been.

The book is in relatively short sections headed “Dream House as _________” (fill in the blank with everything from “Time Travel” to “Confession”), and the way that she pecks at her memories from different angles is perfect for recreating the spiral of confusion and despair. She also examines the history of our understanding of queer domestic violence: lesbian domestic violence, specifically, wasn’t known about until 30-some years ago. The story has a happy ending in that Machado is now happily married. The bizarre twist, though, is that her wife, YA author Val Howlett, was the girlfriend of the woman in the Dream House when they first met. To start with, it was an “open relationship” (or at least the blonde told her so) that Machado reluctantly got in the middle of, before Val drifted away. That the two of them managed to reconnect, and got past their mutual ex, is truly astonishing.

A couple of favorite passages:

“Clarity is an intoxicating drug, and you spent almost two years without it, believing you were losing your mind”

“That there’s a real ending to anything is, I’m pretty sure, the lie of all autobiographical writing. You have to choose to stop somewhere. You have to let the reader go.”
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This memoir was unlike any I've read so far. From the writing style to the content - a woman in a w|w relationship who is emotionally and mentally abused by her girlfriend.
I've never read abuse stories from this perspective and as a result I found this memoir to be interesting as well as sad. 
The author had footnotes placed throughout her writing where she explained certian cases and stories about evidence of women being violent towards other women in relationships and I found that informative and I was also astounded. Because, honestly, I never heard too much about abuse in this context. Usually domestic violence involves a woman being abused a man. 

This was a new take on domestic abuse, and I believe the author was very brave in putting her experience on paper and her honest thought processes as well. Definently a book I would recommend to my peers.

*thanks to Netgalley and Greywolf Press for this arc in exchange for an honest review*
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In The Dream House is author Carmen Maria Machado’s non-fiction book about her experience in an abusive queer relationship. There were MANY beautiful things in this book and the author does a great job of giving you a “slice of life” look at a period in her life. At times, I didn’t feel like enough details were given to really flesh out “the woman in the dream house” for readers.. Your enjoyment in this book may come down to already knowing the author’s style from her previous fiction work “her body & other parties” And a part of me is almost sad this woman “in the dream house” took up so much space in this author’s head. In my opinion is was pretty easy to connect things written in this memoir to things included her fiction collection “Her Body & Other Parties”
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This book is every bit as good as I'd heard. Such skill is exhibited here with writing that is enjoyable to read even though it details such harrowing lived experience. 

I liked the inclusion of pop culture analysis and the eye-opening information about how people have struggled to even accept that abuse can occur in a lesbian relationship. This seems obvious to me that abuse can occur in every kind of relationship, but then again, the lengths to which some people will go to ignore injustice shouldn't be surprising. 

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I enjoyed the predominant story featured int the book - the author's abusive same-sex relationship. The jumping times line really lent its self well to the writing style. I also really respected the purpose of the work - to raise the awreness of same-sex abuse in relationships. 
However, I have come to the realisation that I just don't gel very well with the author's voice. I enjoyed the main theme of the story however I don't find her writing voice peasant nor do I enjoy the quirky filler material throughout the book.
That being said I really came to like the author and the story did touch me .
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I really enjoyed this, and am pleased to say that it kept my attention from beginning to end.  There is a lot to consider whilst reading this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
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In the Dream House is a revelation for the memoir format. Carmen Maria Machado’s masterpiece is a mosaic made up the fragments of her life that revolve around an abusive relationship she had with a former partner. Some are long and some are short. Some are beautifully self-contained narrative episodes that could be (and in some cases, have been) published independently. Some are brief flashes of happiness, fear, anger and love. Some are brutal reality checks for the reader “Most types of domestic abuse are completely legal”. These fragments are addressed directly to the reader, making it impossible to disengage from the haunting narrative because between a chronology that warps and spirals and the changing style the only constant is “you”. The narrative recreates her uncertainty and he partner’s mood-swings, gas-lighting and constant suspicion transform the eponymous Dream House into a nightmare and her (your) reality becomes increasingly unstable.

Throughout, she picks apart the narrative essence of her own experience, linking it to ideas and tropes that have become an essential part of human story-telling, whether through writing, or film. Many of these tackle abusive relationships of one sort or another from fairy tales (extensively footnoting he story using the Motif-Index of Folk Literature) to the film Gaslight from which the modern verb descends. Machado shines a light on abuse between two women, a subject that she readily shows is problematic within the LGBT community as well as society as a whole. She doesn’t flinch away from challenging the often-sterilised or salacious interpretations of one or the other. She brings in historical cases and interrogates the way they were reported, the defences used and the way the women involved were treated and (not) remembered, fighting against the erasure of lesbian and queer women from the narrative of abuse. 

It’s a deeply, brutally personal story whose second-person voice makes it yours. Her shifts from personal to academic to lyrical are all part of the fractured landscape of memory and narrative, giving this memoir a depth that I’ve never really experienced before. It’s horrifying and beautiful at the same time and the writing is stupendous.
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When I first read Machado's Her Body & Other Parties I was blown away by how free, sharp and insightful her storytelling was. I read it again with my book club at work, where it was mostly well-received as well. And then I spent months, legitimate months, waiting for In the Dream House to fall into my hands. When it finally did, I held off on reading it. I had built up very high expectations of anything that came from Machado's pen and was worried I would be underwhelmed. No such fears were necessary. Thanks to Serpent's Tail and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Memoirs are a difficult thing, because they ask a reader to be intensely interested in the personal life of the author, rather than in their craft per se. It is the reason why most autobiographies or memoirs don't work for me, hence why I waited so long before actually starting In the Dream House. The memoir is non-traditional, that much we all would have expected, but I absolutely loved how Machado broke down her own story and reconstructed it. It is what gives it the power with which it knocks you over. Divided into little sections, each named after a different literary device like 'Dream House as Folk Tale', Machado tells the story of her experience of an abusive relationship with another woman in short bursts that always surprise you. By telling her story in this non-chronological way it shows the reader how difficult it can be to make sense of or understand how a relationship turns violent and abusive. There is no simple answer, but there is true heartbreak when your dream house is no longer safe.

The relationship starts like a dream, Machado young and open for love, 'the woman' (never named) worldy, wild and everything she could have wanted. What starts as a satisfying open relationship becomes a controlling nightmare as Machado has to protect herself against accusations of adultery, physical intimidation, and the crushing weight of not knowing where to go.

In the Dream House is full of references, both to existing literature and to the gaps that exist within it. Machado plainly shows the lack of information on abuse and violence within lesbian or queer relationships and how this played a role in her getting stuck in the relationship. The "dream house" is a construct, both physically since she was trapped in a house with her abuser, and mentally, as the silence around her experience traps her within it. It is this silence into which Machado brings her own story, re-framing it in different ways, trying to make sense of it and finding a frame of reference for it. In the end,  Machado does make her escape, supported by friends who grow concerned for her. It is not an easy escape and the difficulty of writing the book shows her that some scars perhaps never quite heal. And yet with In the Dream House she shows that while perfect happy endings may not exist, happy endings are possible.

In In the Dream House Machado shatters what you expect from a memoir. Her writing is haunting, but also enrapturing. Once I started reading I couldn't put it back down, sucked in by how exact and yet ephemeral Machado's story is. Because of how she splits up the story into different categories, it becomes clear how widely abuse affects a life, but also how  mythologized it is. As Machado writes herself: 'Most types of domestic abuse are completely legal'. Obsessive behavior, controlling behavior, the tinge of danger that coats everything, it all has a dangerously glamorous sheen to it as it is so recognizable. Something I found fascinating was the frequent references in footnotes to the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, whether it is omens, rewards, mutilations, the power instilled by knowing someone's true name. It all shows how we have built a literature around love and abuse, in which there is yet a deafening silence into which Machado had to write herself a space.

In the Dream House is a brilliant memoir, the only book you could apply the title of 'one of its kind' to. It's heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic and triumphant. As Machado says at the beginning:
'If you need this book, it is for you.'
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I couldn't stop reading it. Was just incredible. Made me reflect on my own personal experiences of control in a relationships. It's hard to not feel moved by this memoir.
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I requested this book from Netgalley as I'd heard a lot about Her Body and Other Parties, and I'm drawn more and more lately to literary non fiction. I was not prepared for how clever, disturbing and powerful this book was. It is a memoir of a time in Carmen Maria Machado's life when she fell in love with a woman who seemed to give her everything she needed in a partner, as well as being her first proper girlfriend, but after drawing Carmen in and gaining her trust gradually became increasingly controlling and abusive. The book explores how we see or don't see women as abusers, and how these relationships also exist when men are not involved. I felt her shame, fear and anger so clearly I found it hard to sleep after reading it in bed.

I was hooked from the epigraph which stated that memory is a form of architecture, since I had spent a good portion of my undergraduate and masters degree arguing for meaningful links between memory and trauma in landscapes and, more particularly, houses.

I had taken "dream house" to mean something like the toy "Barbie Dream House", an idealised house and home life that one might dream of when they are young. Reading the epigraph, I wondered if we might read "dream house" as the mind as a haunted house. However, in this context "dream house" is viewed from all sorts of angles, and provides the framework for the narrative about this author's life and the abusive relationship she survived.

At the beginning of the memoir, first person narration becomes second person, also referring to the author, but by doing this she distances herself from the past, traumatised self. It also has the effect if making the reader feel complicit and drawn in to what we know will be a horrible story. This is made explicit, as all her stylistic choices are, which doesn't make them unaffective but instead gives us a map as to how to read this book.

I couldn't stop talking about this book as I was reading it, and found myself constantly reaching for it when I had any time at all to spare. Brave, intelligent and necessary, this could well be one of my best books of 2020, and it is only January.
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Carmen Maria Machado's “In the Dream House” is a highly inventive memoir which primarily focuses on a past abusive relationship and the effects of it. Part of what drew me to reading this book was a curiosity to see how she'd meld her fantastical style of writing - which she displayed in her excellent short story collection “Her Body and Other Parties” - with her own autobiographical experience. In this book there are many straightforward recollections of her past particularly concerning an abusive relationship. But they're all framed within the idea of a dream house that was formed within this intense romance. Like a fairy tale castle this imagined space becomes the central setting of fantasy, pleasure and horror. And through this Machado considers different tropes found in folk literature and how they sync with the trajectory of her own turbulent love affair. 

What makes this so effective is it shows the author's own meaningful influences from literature to queer theory to the history of domestic violence and references to films such as Gaslight and Stranger by the Lake. Through her intelligent analysis and personal interpretation of these we feel how deeply traumatised she's been by this relationship. It's possible to get an idea of an abusive relationship from details such as threatening phone calls or bodily harm, but it's much harder to convey the intensely conflicted feelings of fear, shame, lust and love which accompany these events. Machado has found a method to do this which is unique to her sensibility and which fully shows the reader all the ambiguities of her experience. 

It's interesting how she chooses to primarily narrate this memoir through the second person. Fairly early on there is a switch from speaking about her past in the first person to describing it using the pronoun “you” which suggests a more analytical way or looking at her own experience as well as inviting the reader to imagine themselves in her shoes. I felt this was impactful in showing moments of realisation and perspective: “though it would not be until the next summer solstice that you’d be free from her, though you would spend the season’s precipitous drop into darkness alongside her, on this morning, light seeps into the sky and you are present with your body and mind and you do not forget.” In writing “you” the reader understands there is a mindfulness about how she realised this situation was not right, but she was nonetheless unable to free herself from it at the time.

In Meena Kandasamy's powerful novel “When I Hit You” about an abusive marriage, she observes how the shame is not always in the abuse itself but in having to stand to judgement after leaving that relationship. Machado is similarly aware how people will question what is considered abuse and she meaningfully explores how this is further complicated by it being a same-sex relationship. As she found when doing research, there are precious few accounts of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships or between other queer couples. This memoir is not only an important testimony to add to these seldom-recorded histories, but it's also an emotional and thoughtful examination of why so few exist.
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From her first book, I knew this book would be an emotional ride, even in her short stories she can pack so much power into her words and this book is absolutely no exception to that rule as she takes us through an abusive and volatile relationship that through short chapters that burst with her thoughts, delivering an incredible memoir that takes us between the author then and the author now through unique chapters that build a picture.

A book about a relationship with a woman that’s abusive (something that is uncommon) Machado bares her soul and is so open throughout this book, and the way she builds the narrative gives it an edge of horror that just makes this book so much more breath-taking. This complimented with her vulnerability as she looks back in reflection talking to her former self this book is an inventive and sophisticated read that works together.

It’s no a book for everyone, I do understand its unique style may not work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me as she creates such an atmospheric and informative perspective on something so deeply personal to her, it’s an incredible memoir and should be given a look by anyone who wants to read something nothing like anything they have read before. 

(tw: abuse). 

(I received an ARC from Netgalley for honest review).
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By turns stark, startling and alluring, In the Dream House is not quite like anything you've read before.  There are echoes of Wojnarowickz, of Erpenbeck but the voice is radiant and distinctly the author's own. A memoir stuffed with facets on film history, tracing religioin, ritual and the macabre. Its crisp staccato trills with burnt poetry. I loved this book.
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Full Review Here:

“Your back starts to hurt, and your feet, and a doctor says to you, direly, that you need to lose weight. You bawl your eyes out and miss the punch line entirely: the weight you need to lose is 105 pounds and blonde and sitting in the waiting room with an annoyed expression on her face”

Carmen Maria Machado is a master at crafting such harrowing, yet thought-provoking prose. ‘In The Dream House’ is written in a unique and experimental style - which leaves this memoir feeling very un-memoir-like. The writing is somewhat disjointed and non-linear, a mix of vignettes, personal reflections, pop-culture references and essayist debate. The writing was wholly weird and wonderful.

I urge you to read this memoir if you are interested in the topics it covers. It discusses truly bold personal experiences, along with references to pop-culture and research. Told through unique and powerful writing, this is not one to miss. It was fantastic!

However, I would like to repeat Machado’s statement from her afterword: 

"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”. 

CW: Abuse 

Thank you to Serpent’s Tail and Netgalley for an advance copy of this one to review.
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Wow. This is a stunning, visceral and lyrical memoir about Machado's time in an abusive same-sex relationship, a topic which is massively under-researched and under-discussed. Structurally, she uses a short chapter format, relating facets of the relationship to fairy-tale or pop-culture tropes, and tries to dissect and understand her experience.  Part personal, part academic, and completely beautiful, this was unlike any other memoir I have read.  Having been in an emotionally abusive (hetero) relationship, there were parts that resonated deeply with me.  This is a hugely important book as well as a stunning book, and one which I'll be thinking about and recommending for a long time to come.
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An examination of the author's experience with queer domestic abuse and the history of such as told through lyrically descriptive prose and fable addled footnotes. Poetic and dangerous.
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An oddly set out book. Maybe it was because it’s on the kindle. I kind of enjoyed reading this but I can’t say I was blown away by it. 
A good read all the same. 
Thank you to both NetGalley and publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book
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Thanks to NetGalley and Serpent's Tail for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In the Dream House is a memoir that focuses on Machado's abusive relationship with a woman, but is so much more than that. It talks about pop culture, abuse in queer relationships and the study of abuse between women in queer relationships, and her life before and after this relationship.

As a woman who's been in an emotionally abusive relationship with another woman,  this book really spoke to me. It felt like Machado was talking directly to me in certain sections, especially in the bits about moving past the trauma and finding worth again. Her writing was truly something special, and this unique take on a memoir was incredible.

As someone who didn't relate to Her Body and Other Parties very much, I was really hoping this book would speak to me, and it really did.
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IN THE DREAM HOUSE was on my TBR, but not one I planned to pick up right before vacation. Then @runoutofpages loaned me her copy and I dipped into the first few pages, curious—and it grabbed me by the throat. When I wasn’t reading or listening to it, my brain was suffused with its imagery and emotion. When I wasn’t touching it, my fingers were greedy for its pages.
By now you know that this book is about Carmen Maria Machado’s experience with domestic abuse, notable for how few stories there are dealing with abuse in same-sex relationships. But it is unlike any memoir you’ve ever read. This book is academically & aesthetically transfixing. It is Machado standing inside the glass sphere of all the stories ever told about women & pushing at that curvilinear confinement until it is shattered to pieces with the force of her prose.
I both wanted to read this & was prepared not to connect to it personally. I’m not queer. I am cautious enough about people to believe myself impervious to the abusive relationship (but isn’t that what everyone thinks?). And still I was utterly entranced; emotionally invested & implicated, while on another level I marveled at the structure of the project, its brilliance, it’s expansiveness.
This book will be taking up space in my brain for a long time to come, & I suspect it’ll do the same in literary spaces, the public consciousness, & the world-at-large. I hope so, because telling the human story in its wholeness is this: women as lovers, dreamers, workers. Women in charge, dauntless. Women as more than nurturer or supporting cast. Women terrified because they find themselves inside a story they have never read, a play they have never seen. A woman who is gaslit and abused, but is so much more than an abused woman. Women as abusers. Thanks to CMM for giving us this book, & for creating a space which will extend far beyond its covers.
Thanks as well to all who facilitated my reading this book: @runoutofpages for the loaner, @librofm @highridgeaudio & @graywolfpress for the ALC (read by CMM, excellent!), & @netgalley, which confusingly approved me for what I *think* is a dARC of the UK version, set to release 1/2/2020.
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