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In the Dream House


In her late 20s, when she was a student at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Carmen Maria Machado meets an attractive blonde Harvard graduate. Machado thinks that she has met the perfect soulmate. The dream house in this book’s title is a cabin in Bloomington, Indiana, where this unnamed woman lives.

Although the woman is in a relationship with another woman (Val), she and Machado get involved. As days pass, the woman becomes possessive, jealous, aggressive, and abusive. She accuses Machado of having illicit relationships with everyone.

When Machado seems happy about her own work, the woman makes her list and even write down her flaws, but later apologizes and asks for forgiveness. Because there is no clear physical abuse, Machado seems ambivalent about how she is treated.

As there is not much literature on the subject, there is no reference point on queer domestic abuse. It is often in the realm of ‘archival silence,’ which means that it is not part of cultural records.

Machado’s ex-girlfriend was right to be afraid of Machado writing about their relationship. Though the girlfriend remains unnamed in this memoir, her rage, paranoia, and mental imbalance are clear and palpable.

Machado is brutally honest about all her experiences, be it the humiliation of abuse or feeling fat and unattractive. She has named chapters after many narrative traditions and literary tropes and her writing switches between them. Every chapter is a lens through which you see the story unfold.

The point of view also changes from an ‘I’ (the independent, articulate author) and a ‘you’ (the victim of abuse). This helps to amplify the sense of imbalance in her relationship. The references to news reports of old cases and the footnotes of folk tale motifs delighted the researcher in me.

This book ensnared me with its good writing but left me disturbed and unsettled. It also challenged some of my ideas about same-sex relationships and the form/structure of memoirs. Another surprise was that Machado is now married to Val!

All in all, this book was a good experience. 

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