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Summary and book reviews of In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House

by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado X
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
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  • Published:
    Nov 2019, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

A revolutionary memoir about domestic abuse by the award-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties.

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.

And it's that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Machado's dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

Dream House as Overture

I never read prologues. I find them tedious. If what the author has to say is so important, why relegate it to the paratext? What are they trying to hide?



Dream House as Prologue

In her essay "Venus in Two Acts," on the dearth of contemporaneous African accounts of slavery, Saidiya Hartman talks about the "violence of the archive." This concept—also called "archival silence"—illustrates a difficult truth: sometimes stories are destroyed, and sometimes they are never uttered in the first place; either way something very large is irrevocably missing from our collective histories.

The word archive, Jacques Derrida tells us, comes from the ancient Greek ἀρχεῖον: arkheion, "the house of the ruler." When I first learned about this etymology, I was taken with the use of house (a lover of haunted house stories, I'm a sucker for architecture metaphors), but it is the power, the authority, that is the most telling ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author is recounting her own narrative, but also building on a foundation of storytelling that is timeless. There's a villain, but the hero doesn't know she is in danger. There's a haunted house, and we want to tell the hero to get out of there. There's ominous foreshadowing around every corner, and we want to grab her by the lapels and shake her, tell her, "This is not right!" Which is to say, Machado is a master of dramatic tension, and brilliantly illustrates the constant, low-level dread and psychological stress one feels in a relationship with an abusive person...continued

Full Review Members Only (696 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

Harper's Bazaar
Two years after first commanding the world's attention with her debut collection Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado is back with In The Dream House, an engrossing memoir that blurs the lines between personal narrative and literary criticism.

Marie Claire
Machado is able to captivate the reader while telling a brutally honest narrative of abuse.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philly author of the much-awarded Her Body and Other Parties comes back strong with this memoir about adolescence, sexual identity, and damaging love.

Women's Review of Books
It seems absurd that no one has written about abuse in queer relationships like this before. Mercifully, In the Dream House fills an aching void.

BuzzFeed
Machado rejects standard memoir conventions in favor of short discursive chapters...The result is a thoroughly engrossing, sometimes enraging must-read.

The Boston Globe
A stunning book, both deeply felt and elegantly written.

NYLON
Forget everything you think you know about memoir when reading Carmen Maria Machado's brilliant, twisting, provocative entry in the genre.

The New Yorker
Breathtakingly inventive...But what makes In the Dream House a particularly self-aware structure—which is to say, a true haunted house—is the intimation that it is critiquing itself in real time...Here and in her short stories, Machado subjects the contemporary world to the logic of dreaming.

Entertainment Weekly
If there are no new stories, only new ways to tell them, Carmen Maria Machado has found a way to do exactly that, ingeniously...The result is a gorgeously kaleidoscopic feat—not just of literature but of pure, uncut humanity.

The Observer (UK)
A groundbreaking memoir in terms of both form and content...Get ready for Machado to take you on several breakneck cross-country trips of the soul.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Machado has written an affecting, chilling memoir about domestic abuse.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[D]aringly structured and ruthlessly inquisitive...A fiercely honest, imaginatively written, and necessary memoir from one of our great young writers.

The New York Times
Merge the house and the woman—watch the woman experience her own body as a haunted house, a place of sudden, inexplicable terrors—and you are reading the blazingly talented Carmen Maria Machado.

Author Blurb Roxane Gay
Absolutely remarkable...What makes this book truly exceptional is how Machado creates an archive where, shamefully, there is none.

Author Blurb Kevin Brockmeier
It's a testament to Carmen Maria Machado's abilities that a memoir as harrowing as In the Dream House can also be so energizing to read, so propulsive.

Author Blurb Lillian Faderman
Carmen Maria Machado's memoir about being trapped in a love relationship that turns nasty and shameful is unflinchingly honest...In the Dream House affirms that Machado is one of the most talented young writers of our day.

Author Blurb Melissa Broder
Wrought with alarming premonition, propulsive rhythm, and a trove of folkloric archetypes, Machado's genre-crushing memoir is a meditation on the eclipse of knowledge and intuition by the narcotic light of a destructive bond that feels like love.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Murder of Freda Ward

Portrait of Freda Ward In Carmen Maria Machado's memoir In the Dream House, she writes of her abusive relationship with another woman and the lack of scholarship and cultural representations available on the subject of abuse in queer relationships in general. Having researched the subject exhaustively, she provides snapshots of examples throughout the book, including the 1892 murder of 17-year-old Freda Ward by 19-year-old Alice Mitchell, with whom Freda was romantically involved.

Freda and Alice met at the Higbee School for Girls in Memphis, Tennessee. They grew close, and it was not unusual at the time for girls to hold hands, kiss and otherwise express affection, so their attachment was not regarded with any special notice by most. The Wards moved to ...

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Readalikes

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