In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a masterwork. A genre-bending memoir that plays with the tropes and clichés of the gothic and fairy tale genres, this book explores the trauma and struggle of an emotionally abusive relationship, while using interludes to examine the small archive of abuse in the queer community.
Studying fairytales means that you know the rules of story. Machado knows them deeply, and so she can tear them apart and rearrange them to make magic, to unsettle, to deceive. When I heard her read, I was in awe of the way that she uses fairy tale motif classifications as footnotes—as someone who’s studied Thompson and Propp, I was nerding out hard—and was blown away by how she managed to incorporate the wild antics of film Volcano. As a huge fan of Machado, and with a deep love for anything described as “genre-bending,” I had already planned to read this memoir; but once I heard her read, I knew I had to dive in much sooner than I’d planned. This was a must-read.
And so last night, I read In the Dream House in a single, long sitting, a glass of whiskey by my side as the cold air whistled at my window. I can tell you the moment when I went from thinking this memoir was genius to thinking it was a masterpiece, and it’s when I hit “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure,” a section in which Machado presents a situation with her ex-girlfriend as a choose your own adventure story, complete with glimpses into the future and into the past, in a way that utilizes skipped pages that you shouldn’t be able to see and traps you into cycles you can’t escape.
The sections are short and painful; Machado’s research, introspection, time weaving, and her use of genre to bend your expectations and use your recognition, combine to make this one of the best books I’ve read this year, and perhaps ever. Quite a big content warning for emotional and psychological abuse here. This is a must-read of 2019.
Thanks for the great review!