“The house is not essential for domestic abuse, but hell, it helps,” Carmen Maria Machado writes about eighty-odd pages into In the Dream House, and the powerful grip that the book would have had around your throat until now tightens to a point of no return.
“A house is never apolitical,” she soon adds. You’re now in a nightmare she’s making you see through her eyes while you’re both awake; she allows you to flinch but never look away. And whispering in your ear, “If a dream breaks in a concrete forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
This is a trigger warning shaped like a book, but one that must be devoured, memorised, and passed on – even when one is told “You’re not allowed to write about this… Don’t you ever write about this. Do you f*cking understand me?” like Machado is by her charming, worldly, destructive partner soon after verbally abusing her – as storm warnings from those who have suffered to those who won’t be spared either. The “Dream House” in question is a cabin in Bloomington, Indiana where Machado’s lover, and the subject of this book, used to live during the course of their relationship.
The chapters unfold like independent stories, separated by themes of erotica, travelogue, memory, folklore – connected by the same lives. What makes Dream House more complicated than a story of abuse and domestic violence is that both the abuser and the survivor are women, an idea that does not easily align with what we picture when we try to picture abusive relationships. It’s written with gut-wrenching honesty, but also with an equal amount of generosity – a memoir that chooses to open up conversations instead of sensationalism. After all, the horrors of life get slightly easier to withstand when you know you’re not standing all alone in the storm.