Friday, 23 April 2021

In The Dream House by: Carmen Maria Machado

 Genre: Memoir 

Published: November 5, 2019 by: Graywolf Press 

Pages: 251 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: graphic depictions of domestic abuse (physical and emotional/verbal) 

In this harrowing and poignant memoir, Carmen Maria Machado articulates her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. To do so, Machado uses chapters that mirror specific writing tropes and techniques, as well as the overall symbol of "the dream house." Overall, this memoir will resonate with victims of abuse, or anyone who wants to know more about the history of same-sex abuse and the lengths that some have went to in order to cover it up. 

I loved this memoir. Recently I have gotten really into non-fiction and memoir, and it is through books like these that make me appreciate this genre all the more. In The Dream House is a disturbing read for sure, as Machado does not hold anything back in terms of detailing the abuse that she has endured. I would caution all victims to take care of themselves when reading this book. Something that Machado did in her storytelling that really resonated with me is how she used writing tropes to tell her story. Machado created a world that both critiques the handling of same-sex abuse in society, as well as the handling of abuse in writing practices. 

The main symbol that Machado carries throughout her book is the idea of "the dream house." That is, the house that she shared with her abusive partner and the false reality of "a dream house" that many abuse survivors can create in their minds. The dream house functions through a chapter by chapter summary of Machado's life through her relationship with her abuser and with the dream house itself. But, Machado writes each chapter through the lense of a different writing trope. For example, one chapter is "The Dream House as a Gothic," or "The Dream House as a Femme Fatale." Therefore, Machado is able to comment on her abuse by using typical writing tropes to do so. These writing tropes are destabilized and somewhat exposed for their treatment of abuse and abused queer people. So, there is interesting commentary on how the tradition of writing has impacted marginalized individuals. 

I loved this book so much that I actually wrote on it for an assignment for a Queer Theory course. We were tasked with finding something that could function as a queer archive. I was struck by how Machado commented on the history of same-sex domestic abuse and how homophobia has covered it up. Through an examination of each writing technique or trope, Machado brings in a discussion of how history has done queer people wrong. Same-sex domestic abuse is not widely talked about in mainstream activism, and Machado forces people to pay attention to it and make it a crucial part of the discussion of queer history and of queer rights. 

I should also mention that Machado is a queer Latina woman, and so this novel also brings in a discussion of race and how race and sexuality are interconnected. Overall, this novel really resonated with me both in its ability to tell an emotional story with sensitivity and power, but also in the way it comments on queer history and the practice of writing. If you are a writer, a survivor, an ally, or really any person, you must give this a read. 

Have you read In The Dream House? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princes


  1. Oh wow this sounds really well done. It seems like it would be really tough to write something so personal and use the tropes like that effectively. Not an easy thing to do I would think. And sounds like a topic we need more attention brought to. Glad this was good.

    1. Yes! I think the author is super talented in the sense that she was able to talk about a difficult topic using so many different methods.

  2. This sounds powerful and I loved your analysis!

  3. I don't think domestic abuse amongst Queer couples is really talked about as much as it probably should be - I think part of that is all the gender roles b*llsh** surrounding the media narrative of abuse. There was a domestic abuse awareness campaign here a while back, with a series of adverts, and while there was def. one about abuse in an M/M relationship, I don't think there was one about an F/F relationship, or an M/F relationship where the abuser was Female (or if there was, I never saw any.)

    1. It definitely should be talked about more! I'm glad to see Machado's memoir gaining more ground when it comes to this issue.