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Sniffing Out the Boogeyman

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Guest Post by Lily Anna Erb

Carmen Maria Machado creates a dark, dreamlike landscape in her experimental memoir, In The Dream House. Her story of queer domestic abuse, written as a collection of short vignettes, begins as a fairy tale. There’s a monster lurking somewhere, and the desire to sniff out the boogeyman makes you forget you’re even turning pages. Machado’s addition of fairy tale citations adds a semi-lighthearted and humorous touch to an otherwise darker narrative. Machado’s fairy tale monster takes the form of the woman who lives in the “dream house.”

Machado creates a fascinating practice in self-analysis and reader involvement by using all three modes of perspective. She utilizes third person to explain an airy concept, second person to tell the lurid contents of her tale, and first person to speak directly to the reader. The most frequently utilized perspective is the second person, where Machado seems to rip her hand through the spine of the book to touch the reader. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking example of this technique is the section titled “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure” where the reader is given multiple choices of action which all lead to the same abusive conclusion.

No matter how fascinating a world Machado can craft, it doesn’t save her from unnecessary pedanticism. The form of the book, utilizing “The Dream House as . . .”  before every vignette quickly loses its original charm. The book seems to drag on unnecessarily long. Once the story loses its driving force of conflict, the reader is ready for it to end. However, these small annoyances did not totally hinder my consumption of Machado’s work. In The Dream House is full of minefields that you don’t expect. By the end of the book, the reader cheers on Machado as she recovers from her time in the “dream house.”

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Graywolf Press, November 2019.

Reviewer bio: Originally from New York, Lily Anna Erb is a sophomore studying poetry at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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