Carmen Maria Machado’s voice is a fine-honed instrument. She reads In the Dream House, her memoir of receiving abuse in a same-sex relationship, at a volume just above a whisper. She is hushed, quick, and measured yet still barreling down. Her voice is arresting. You will stop dead-still to catch her every intake of breath. She is a force to be reckoned with. I am in awe of her strength; her strength to survive, her strength to document, and her strength to share her darkest moments with unnamed masses of strangers.
Telling stories in just one way misses the point of stories.
Machado is a master of the story; she weaves and warps through over a hundred small chapters: “Dream House as Eldritch Horror”, “Dream House as Cheesy Sci-Fi”, “Dream House as Memory Palace” all jostle together to build the spooky and threatening real-life world of the Dream House itself. She excels in fragmentation, and her love of fairy tales, fables, and Dr. Who all work together to assemble piece-by-piece the often untold and frequently unbelieved truth of abuse in queer relationships. She speaks of the pressure to be a “perfect example” when you are a member of a marginalized community.
We can’t stop living. Which means we have to live, which means we are alive, which means we are humans and we are human: some of us are unkind and some of us are confused and some of us sleep with the wrong people and some of us make bad decisions and some of us are murderers. And it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing: the idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right. It is simply a state of being—one subject to politics, to its own social forces, to larger narratives, to moral complexities of every kind. So bring on the queer villains, the queer heroes, the queer sidekicks and secondary characters and protagonists and extras. They can be a complete cast unto themselves. Let them have agency, and then let them go.
She is an absolute powerhouse of righteous rage. She looks back and forward, surrounded by the wreckage of her relationship, and howls into the night- reaching everyone out there who has ever been in a similar situation. She lived it too, and you are not alone.
Reader, do you remember that ridiculous movie Volcano, the one with Tommy Lee Jones? Do you remember how they stopped eruption in the middle of downtown Los Angeles? They diverted it with cement roadblocks and pointed fire hoses at it, and rerouted the lava to the ocean, and everything was fine? Sweet reader, that is not how lava works. Anyone can tell you that. Here is the truth: I keep waiting for my anger to go dormant, but it won’t. I keep waiting for someone to reroute my anger into the ocean, but no one can. My heart is closer to Dante’s Peak of Dante’s Peak. My anger dissolves grandmas in acid lakes and razes quaint Pacific Northwest towns with ash and asphyxiates jet engines with its grit. Lava keeps leaking down my slopes. You should have listened to the scientist. You should have evacuated earlier.