Heat Death of the Universe


In the Dream House (Penguin Random House) by Carmen Maria Machado is a memoir, but “memoir” doesn’t feel like an adequate word to describe it. Written in short, usually one-to-three-page sections, each titled “Dream House as…” Machado examines an abusive relationship through various lenses, including: Stoner Comedy, Spy Thriller, Heat Death of the Universe, Unexpected Kindness, Schrödinger’s Cat. I came to the memoir having read Machado’s fiction, so I knew she liked to experiment with form (Her Body and Other Parties, her book of short stories, features one story as a list of former lovers, and another as TV episode synopses). But I didn’t anticipate how expertly Machado would use form to challenge the reader and make them an active participant in her story. One section, titled “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure,” forces the reader to put themselves in Machado’s position and choose her fate. If you try to opt out by flipping past it, Machado pushes back: “Here you are, on a page you shouldn’t be… Does it make you feel good, that you cheated to get here? What kind of person are you? Are you a monster?” In the Dream House is a memoir, but it’s also an exercise in interrogating how we tell a story. In making explicit the lens through which each element of the story is told, Machado encourages us to ask: Who gets to tell these kinds of stories? When, why, and how? And who believes them? These are particularly pressing questions when it comes to the topic of domestic abuse. What happens to the narratives of abuse that fall outside of our traditional expectations of who constitutes an “abuser” and a “victim”? And what better way to explore this than through a memoir that falls outside the boundaries of genre? This book feels like a gift, and not by accident. As Machado writes in her dedication, “If you need this book, it is for you.”

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