'In the Dream House': Carmen Maria Machado’s account of an abusive relationship with an ex-girlfriend.
This Philadelphia author with Cuban roots writes openly about queer relationships
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Carmen Maria Machado is one of the new figures on the American literary scene.
The daughter of Cuban and Austrian immigrants, Machado grew up in a very religious household, which led her to feel guilty about her sexuality for several years. That ended up being the main theme of her books, and what has made her known as an author.
Her career began in the famous Iowa Writing Workshop, and then she went on to publish short stories and essays in prestigious magazines such as Granta and The New Yorker. She cemented herself as an icon by publishing a collection of short stories called Her Body and Other Parties, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017.
In 2019, she published In the House of Dreams (also published in Spanish as En la casa de los sueños), an autobiographical memoir that recounts a deeply toxic relationship the author had during her early youth. To the reader's surprise, it was not a case about "macho" abuse, but mistreatment by another woman. It was her girlfriend at the time — a petite, blonde, upper-class, Harvard graduate, and a sophisticated and fascinating girl. Carmen went to live with her in an idyllic cabin in Bloomington, Virginia, and the abuse began there, as the name of the novel indicates. As time passed, Machado's girlfriend became jealous, controlling and paranoid. She accused her of cheating on her and verbally and physically assaulting her.
Machado wants to show with her books that abuse and manipulation is not just a gender issue.
In a recent interview with BBC, Machado explained that writing about the most traumatic relationship of her youth was not cathartic, but very painful and difficult.
"It's relevant to write about queer villains, because in doing so "we give them space to be human, as characters and as people," she said.
Despite her Cuban roots, her Spanish has never been good enough to read.
"We never used Spanish at home, as my mother doesn't speak it," she explained in an interview with AL DÍA years ago. "But when I was a teen, a teacher handed me a stack of books to read outside out of school from her personal library, and it included a copy of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. That novel broke open my mind. I was 15; I'd never read a book like that. Afterwards, I devoured García Márquez's other novels, and later moved on to Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, Borges, and many others."
Machado also thinks that the type of fiction she writes — metafiction, liminal fantasy, magical realism, all written in a lyrical, literary style — has its roots in those writers.
"I'd like to think that my language has also been influenced by their prose. I only wish I could read them in Spanish; I'm sure it would deepen my readings tenfold," she said.