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A sweeping, multi-layered romance set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II, where gods hold the fates–and the hearts–of four mortals in their hands. They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist, a British would-be architect turned soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice. Their story, as told by the goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though War is a formidable force, it’s no match for the transcendent power of Love.
Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!
This week’s recommendation is In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado.
Content warning: domestic abuse, physical intimidation and emotional manipulation
“Love cannot be won or lost; a relationship doesn’t have a scoring system. We are partners, paired against the world. We cannot succeed if we are at odds with each other.”
Carmen Maria Machado is the author of Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, which was a National Book Award finalist in 2017 and one of my favorite reads of the year. She changes up genres in this latest release, which details the two very painful years she spent as a graduate student at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and was in an emotionally abusive relationship with another woman. This is so much more than a memoir, though—Machado plays with form and tropes to tell a complex and beguiling story of her relationship. Beginning with heady infatuation, complicated by differing values, her partnership slowly but surely turns dark, until Machado finds herself alienated and held hostage by the whims of a person whose demands don’t always make sense. The chapters are brief, and labeled as devices or tropes (Dream House as Inciting Incident, Dream House as American Gothic), allowing Machado to examine this time in her life from multiple angles, through varying lenses.
But more than a story of domestic abuse, this is also an important look at domestic abuse between same-sex partners. In writing this book, Machado began researching queer intimate partner abuse and what information she could find was scant or, more often than not, deliberately buried. And so, In the Dream House becomes a touchstone book about queer domestic abuse, demanding that we shed light on this very real and important issue, for as Machado writes, “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity.”
Machado’s writing is razor-sharp, playful, powerful, and this is ultimately a hopeful book with a happy ending. I read it in a single sitting (the short chapters make it easy to say, “Just one more…”) and I could not stop thinking about the writing for days afterward. For audiobook listeners: Machado narrates the audiobook herself, although due to the experimental structure of this book, you might want to read a physical copy. (Or pick up both. You won’t regret it.)