In this fragmented memoir of her relationship with an abusive long-term partner, Machado imbues her own personal story with an exposition of the “archival silence” on the topic of abuse in the queer community. It starts with a fervent crush on a beautiful, charming acquaintance. Progressing through the stages of friendship, torrid love, and polyamorous romance, the “woman in the dream house” gradually transforms into a manipulative, living nightmare. Their mutual infatuation, tangled up with the euphoria of love and lust, leads to a co-dependent relationship—a deceptive bondage that is all too common in romantic partnerships.
With each short chapter, Machado dares readers to continue exploring every inexplicable contradiction and dark crevice of the hellish relationship that dominates her life. Machado forces the reader into the protagonist’s mind and body with the 2nd person narration throughout the book and a detour into a downward spiraling “choose your own adventure” scenario. The memoir is sprinkled with references to the Motif-Index of Folk-Literature—frequent reminders that while her experience is unique and devastating, elements of her story are also universal and timeless.
As she unearths years of emotional trauma, Machado also explains how gendered perceptions of abusers and victims excludes narratives of the non-binary and queer, leaving a historical, legal, and canonical void where stories of countless people have been invalidated by mainstream culture. Machado’s domestic fantasy turned to extreme dysfunction claims a space in literature that has long been silenced. In the collective bits of her broken self and story, Machado’s insight illustrates why it’s important to value the stories not only of the obvious perpetrators of violence, but also the terrors taking place all the time beyond white picket fences and the façade of the dream house.
“I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.”