Review by ethan pickett
We are forced to consider violence every day. We are confronted by it, made to sit with its implications. We have strong ideas about who is violent and who can be violent. We pretend we know what it looks like.
There is a dramatic shift that happens when someone we thought we loved (or could love or want to love or, unfortunately, continue to love) commits an act of violence against someone else; when we have to come to terms with the proximity of such a harsh world to our small and seemingly safe communities. I know firsthand what it feels like to lose love over a dispute none of us want to relive. To have a community violated in such a way— that is, from within— is a poignant sadness unmatched by any other. To be on the receiving end of inter-communal violence is devastating.
These are, however, hard truths. The lack of representation that this type of brutal act sees is, in a way, demeaning to those who have been required to steep in its effects. Representation not only matters, but is vital to reaching understanding.
Using bricks of association to build a house out of memory which may be confusing, but is certainly a waking nightmare. She uses the clarity of the present as a lens through which to process. She knows this is a story that needs to be told. She knows there are people that need to hear what she has to say. She knows these narratives of the past are still becoming, still filling themselves out as time passes. She knows there are still people struggling to find voice in the cacophony of social pressure, even when it can be masked as freedom. She knows all of these things as she lays her foundation and piles memory on top of it, brick by brick.
She refuses to be tokenized, to be used as a representative for a whole, to be the archetype. She asserts herself as a person with something to say. Someone whose story can help other people understand. Someone who has empathy, complicated relationships with people and with memory, and a comprehension of her own placement in the world. She is not a symbol.
You are stunned by the beauty and the simplicity existing simultaneously, and that’s just in the words. More, you are placed in this moment from the very beginning where you are asked to consider the mere existence of a text such as this one in “How do we right the wronged people of the past without physical evidence of their suffering?” that comes along in a string of questions begging you to understand what the implications of this work might be.
You are impressed by the clear-eyed confrontation of social inferences and willingness to combat those pressures, screaming unabashedly about queerness, finally investing in “helping queer folks understand what their experiences mean.” You feel a movement away from—in Machado’s words—the eternal liminality of queer women. You see the doors open.
You wonder about the ways such an exact fear can be captured. You learn how to walk with the weight of memory hanging from your limbs, making each movement an exercise. You learn about the origins of the gaslight, about abuse scholarship, about queer trauma. You’re being educated while your heart is breaking. It is a rare feeling.
You sit on the floor of a house—much like the one you’ve been invited into by the pages of the book you may or may not feel qualified to read—which happens to be in the same midwestern college town, while pursuing the same dream as the one in this memoir you are poring over that feels so close to your own memory, but offering new perspective in identity. You cry. The tears come not because it hurts (it does), but because you feel so seen. This was made for you out of necessity.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2019)