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by Sara Ricci

Part of LM Voices' Tiny Reviews series

Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House” challenges traditional narrative structures while exploring the complexities of queer domestic abuse. 

One of the most striking aspects of the book is Machado’s innovative use of structure: each chapter is like a room in the “dream house,” exploring different facets and moments of her relationships. She uses a fragmented approach that mirrors the shattered nature of memory and trauma, creating a nonlinear narrative that keeps the reader engaged and emotionally invested. By stretching the boundaries of the memoir genre, the author reshapes its very essence to match the vibrant pulse of her memories. Machado’s words have a restless energy that trembles through the fractured chapters, later reassembled into a series of snapshots. 

The stratified stories from adopt diverse narrative traditions leverage many different literary devices, such as an unreliable storyteller, emotional symbolism, and a surprising interactive kind of dialogue with the reader, reflecting Machado’s inner conflict. In describing her own writing, Machado says, “I broke the stories down because I was breaking down and didn’t know what else to do.” Her style is lyrical and evocative, painting vivid images that linger in the mind long after the book is finished. She delves into themes of love, power, identity, and agency with a raw honesty that is both brave and compelling, and through her exploration of the toxic dynamics in her relationship, she sheds light on broader issues of abuse within queer communities and challenges societal norms around what domestic abuse “should” look like, adding depth and nuance to her personal narrative, offering broader insights into the intersections of identity, trauma, and storytelling.

“In the Dream House” is a testament to the resilience of survivors and a call to action for greater awareness and support for those affected by domestic abuse, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

The author also beautifully captures the intricate relationship between memory and trauma, highlighting how certain sensory experiences can unexpectedly transport us back to moments we may wish to forget. By frequently putting the reader in the dream house, she questions the narratives we tend to construct around relationships and the possibility (or impossibility) of transforming toxic dynamics into something healthier.

Metaphor is a potent tool in Carmen Maria Machado’s storytelling is the, as she uses it as a means to express her complex emotions and experiences. For example, the dream house symbolizes not only the idealized vision of a perfect relationship lived in the intimacy of a home, but also the fragility and impermanence of such dreams. By intertwining her experiences within the context of a dream house, Machado conveys the sense of disillusionment and shattered expectations that she faces in her relationship.

She compares falling in love with a “monster” to becoming entangled in something destructive or harmful, whether it’s a toxic relationship, a personal flaw, or an external force. The question posed—whether it’s possible to transform the monster into something else—touches on themes of redemption and change.

Ultimately, Machado incites contemplation on the nature of transformation and the limitations of our narratives. The book challenges us to consider whether our stories can reshape reality or if certain truths remain unchanged despite our storytelling efforts. It’s a reflection on the complexity of human experiences and the enduring power of storytelling to shape our lives and perceptions.

Sara Ricci was born in southern Italy. Having graduated in languages and currently a dishwasher, she dedicates most of her time to reading and writing (or even thinking about writing), absolutely convinced it is the only way to deconstruct reality in order to make proper sense of it.


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