In the Dream House

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

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: http://www.readingruby.co.uk/2020/01/in-the-dream-house/

“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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Poised and mature, Machado writes about the experience of abuse in queer relationships, loaded with tenderness and fragility, depcicting monstrous actions beneath a beautiful veneer. This definitely breaks ground in what memoir can do, forcing the reader to face facts, embrace reality see the real history we've neglected to accept. Committed to telling her story as the present first person I, and the former second person you, Machado discusses with herself the life she has lived, the pain she's endured- and the archive she has started to build. Outstanding read.
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Enjoy isn't a word I would use, but the story is really compelling, and the structure works so much better than I was expecting it to. It's hard to critique, because it's a story of an abusive relationship and that often makes it hard to read, if though it's important to do so. I had previously read Machado's short story collection, but I think this memoir shows how her writing has really levelled up since then.
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In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is like nothing I have ever read. It was beautiful, terrifying, heartbreaking, and engrossing. While Machado is writing and relaying her memories to us she is also reflecting on the experience and uses "you" throughout. This also had the effect of making the reader feel like they are in the memories in a way I haven't experienced.
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In the Dream House is Machado's memoir about her seemingly perfect queer relationship with a woman that quickly slips into abuse. It is hard for me to put into words how visceral the episodes of abuse were any better than Machado does herself. On the other hand the completely creative titles for each short chapter (Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure, Dream House as Road Trip to Everywhere, etc.), the pop culture refrences, and the use of folk motifs throughout add a surrealness to it all. Then you remind yourself that all this has actually happened.
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In the Dream House is released on the 2nd of January here in the UK so not long to wait. Thank you to Serpent's Tail and Netgalley for my eARC, opinions are completely my own.
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What can I say about this book, it made me angry, laugh, cry and then at times, it undid me, before putting me back together again. The book is usual for two reasons, first it is a book about domestic abuse with a woman abusing her girlfriend, second the structure is very different. Using the metaphor of a Dream House which contained nightmares, Carmen Maria Machado writes a series of metaphors such as 'Dream House as diagnosis' where she then sues different genres of ways of understanding to explore her experiences. there are educational explorations of the film Gaslight and other famous queer women domestic abuse cases, cathartic emotional explorations and humorous ones too, including my favourite that made me laugh out loud on the tube, at its perfect description of the absurdity of how people are dismissed by people they go to for help.
".... 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." 

When she writes of the abuse that she experienced, it is moving and visceral, which can be disturbing especially if you have experienced any kind of abuse yourself. She writes without self pity but more to help people understand and to begin a dialogue that LGBT people need to have and understand that we are not immune from abuse in our relationships. We can not hide from the way in which prejudice affects us. Which makes this an important book for therapists, for the community, for survivors and for perpetrators.
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I'm beginning this review with a necessary disclaimer: I am not able to write an unbiased review of this book. This memoir is so incredibly powerful. It expressed things that I have never been able to put into words myself. It spoke to me, as cheesy as that might sound.

Trigger warnings: psychological abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, homophobia, fatphobia, gaslighting

As the blurb explains, In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a memoir about abuse within a queer relationship. The main framing device is the Dream House - the house that she shared with her unnamed girlfriend during the course of their relationship. This house takes many forms, and Machado plays with many different literary devices to explore it. My personal favourite was the Choose Your Own Adventure format, where she explored all the different responses she could have had when faced with her girlfriend's cruelty one morning. It so perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being trapped - because no matter what her response is, it always leads straight back into the cycle of abuse. There's no way to win.

On a craft level, I thought that this book worked brilliantly. Machado talks to the reader in second person (i.e. 'you'). 'You' are in the midst of this abusive relationship, where Machado's 'I' is looking back, having processed it and written this book. I think that this is a really helpful device for allowing the reader to embody her experiences - I would be very interested in reading about how this worked for someone who hasn't experienced abuse firsthand. For me, it absolutely hit right on the mark. There were a couple of times where I definitely felt like I was re-living the emotional side of abuse that I have personally experienced before.

It is also an extremely fragmented narrative. Some chapters are only a page long, and they skip through different topics very quickly. I've seen some criticisms of that, which I think is totally fair, but again for me, I thought that this absolutely got to the crux of what abuse is like. These short chapters are sudden and unexpected, like her girlfriend's moods. They skip around erratically, just like Machado's memory does, because her girlfriend gaslit her into doubting her own memories. And they allow Machado to explore all the different literary devices that feed into her understanding of her experiences.

Finally, I want to just say that I have never read a book that talked about abuse within queer relationships. She actually mentions this early on in the book - how there is an archival silence with this topic. (As in, there are very few records, in both fiction and documentation such as police records.) While I found this book to be extremely useful to myself personally and emotionally, I also think its existence at all is really valuable in that it begins to fill this silence. There are a lot of very basic ideas that need to be challenged - such as the assumption that same-sex relationships can't and don't have the possibility for abuse. Machado also talks about her personal belief in the need for narratives with queer 'villains'. And that makes a lot of sense to me - queer individuals are people too, and equally as capable of bad decisions, behaviours, and abuse. And I do think that the lack of these 'villains' makes people believe that same-sex relationships (particularly f/f relationships) are always perfect.

Needless to say, I thought that this memoir was incredible. It is such an important text, not only to fill the archival silence, but also on a personal level. If you're looking for a less biased opinion, I'd suggesting checking out What's Nonfiction's review.
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What to say other than...wow. This book was written in such an interesting and unique way, holding so much emotion that I both needed to continue reading it but dreaded what was going to happen next. 

I wasn't sure about the book going into it, I didn't know what to expect. Even as I was reading it, I never knew what to expect, what would come next. Along with the author's own story is essentially a brief history of how queer women have been represented, especially in relation to abuse. I learnt so much reading this and realised much greater the struggles of a queer woman can be. 

There were times when the language left me a little confused as to what was happening and what was being spoken about but overall it was an incredible, hard-hitting book and I hope it makes people aware that yes, abuse within the queer community exists but no, that does not mean their relationships are any less valid. I will admit to wishing there had been an ending where she stood up to her abuser, where her abuser realised just how wrong she was, but I recognise real life isn't like that, and ultimately, the author got the happy ending she deserved and I hope she continues to find happiness. 

Thank you to Netgalley for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I read Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties last year and found it completely enthralling. I was looking forward to new work from her. Luckily, I had the opportunity to see her at Brooklyn Book Fest a few months back and heard about In the Dream House. I was immediately intrigued and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. 

This memoir, which documents Machado's own experience as a victim of domestic abuse in a queer relationship, is exquisitely written in a style unlike any I've seen before. It is insightful, tragic, hopeful, and sheds light on an issue that is so rarely given notice in any medium. 

Interspersed with historical research and references, this is a witty and intelligent must read.
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We’ve all seen the statistics and winced at the daily litany of horrific reports in the media concerning domestic abuse. Sometimes the violence is physical, sometimes psychological, often both, but our general impression is of a male abusing a female partner or relative. 

How often, though, do we hear of female on female abuse – not in the school bully or street gang sense, but between two women involved in a lesbian relationship? It’s rarely reported, and more shocking for that reason, but domestic abuse within the LGBTQ+ community is far from uncommon. It is simply a facet of everyday life concealed by the ongoing struggle for acceptance and “minority anxiety”.  People are people, regardless of their sexuality.

In her new memoir, Carmen Maria Machado finds ways to present an abusive relationship between two women by focusing on her own traumatic ordeal with an ex-girlfriend – whom she refers to only as “the woman in the Dream House”. She was a gifted young writing student in Midwest America when they met – fellow writers, soon to be lovers – Machado’s first proper girlfriend.

The ‘dream house’ is sometimes a metaphor for the author’s own body, but the numerous meanings behind the place to which she alludes proliferate like dust mites in a cosy home. She tells her story in fragmentary sketches and vignettes, ranging in length from a single sentence to several pages. Using the language of folklore and fairy tales, she chronicles her infatuation, their mutual desire, the tantalizing flattery, overwhelming attention, constant questioning of motives, absurd accusations, soul-destroying vigilance, flight between rooms, screaming in her ears, and the sweetly uttered, “Why are you crying?”

In the Dream House breaks down the traditional narrative form, pushing the limits of autobiographical writing by presenting us with a montage of tropes and genres. Her account swings between exuberance and despair; from passion to confusion to subjugation to demoralization. Little documentary material exists on queer abuse, so Machado makes it her business to recount these experiences in a way she hopes will be recognisable to others. In her words, queer people “deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity.”

In her memorable debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which won the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award, she cheerfully obliterated traditional boundaries between realism and fantasy, earning her comparisons with Kelly Link. This ambitious book about "a house that was not a house and a dream that was no dream” is similarly shapeshifting but never once averts its gaze from uncomfortable facts.

In the Dream House is written with wit and honesty. Not only does it redefine memoir, but it is hugely important and is destined to be considered a classic.
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'In the Dream House' is Carmen Maria Machado’s genre-bending account of a deteriorating relationship that starts off sweet but turns incredibly sour very quickly, interwoven with a dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. 

I devoured this title in one night and have come back to it again and again to re-read sections. The memoir embraces Machado's formally experimental style, told though vignettes and chapters in varying literary styles and interspersed with historical accounts and theory. While these sharp stylistic turns could have felt gimmicky, it reads smoothly and seems like a natural way to tell this story. Machado plays with form and genre, trying on a variety of voices in an attempt to counter the silence in the archive and give language to a subject rarely written about. Personal favourite sections include 'Dream House as Noir', 'Dream House as Queer Villany' and 'Dream House as Choose Your Own Advenure'. This memoir is beautiful, deeply personal, haunting, confronting - forcing us to examine the types of suffering we, both individually and as a society, will and will not accept. Essential reading. 

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.
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"In the Dream House" is Carmen Maria Machado's memoir of an abusive relationship, 'a book about a house that was not a house and a dream that was no dream at all'. Each chapter begins 'Dream House as....' as Machado examines the relationship and herself thrugh various lenses, such as 'Dream House as Murder Mystery', 'Dream House as Self-help Bestseller', and more experimental chapters such as the devestating 'Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure', and 'Traumhaus as Lipogram' in which there is an absence in the form of the letter 'e'.

In the chapter 'Dream House as Cliché', Machado acknowledges the common features of abusive relationships and how her experience mirrors that of so many others, writing 'this triteness, this predictability, has a flattening effect, making singularly boring what is in fact a defining and terrible experience'. However, Machado is also aware that her story is one worth telling and that 'what is placed in or left out of the archive is a political act, dictated by the archivist and the political context in which she lives'. This is because the abuse she experienced happened within a same-sex relationship. Machado interrogates this aspect aware that there can be a pressure for those in same-sex relationships to downplay such ugliness and dysfunction ('Dream House as Public Relations').

"In the Dream House" is a painful and upsetting read, but it is also artful and stimulating. Machado writes of how memoirists 'braid the clays of memory and essay and fact and perception together, smash them into a ball, roll them flat' and the result here is a clever and moving work.
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