In November, Carmen Maria Machado shared with her Twitter followers news of a new, completed book: In the Dream House. “Y’all, this book almost killed me dead, but I did it,” she wrote. She then added: “It’s a memoir, not fiction!”
In 2017, Machado broke out with one of the most exciting literary debuts in recent years, the magnificent, genre-bending short-story collection Her Body and Other Parties, a National Book Award finalist. (The book is currently in active development as a series at FX.) Now she’s shifting to her first nonfiction book, and second overall. After an arduous writing and researching process, and a bit of recovery period, she’s speaking at length about it for the first time.
In the Dream House is an innovative memoir chronicling a relationship gone bad, and a dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
“It’s a really intense topic,” Machado tells EW. “It was difficult emotionally. And it required me to stretch my comfort zone way past where I normally do. I’m not a historian. I’m not a traditionally trained journalist. [It] took a lot out of me. The book also took much longer than I thought it was going to. By the time I was done, I was like, ‘Wow, I never want to do that again!'”
In writing about a personal experience of queer domestic violence, Machado quickly realized she was exploring a topic that typically goes ignored. “There’s this weird element of it, which is that I was in a relationship with another woman, and I feel like I haven’t really seen that represented anywhere or read that anywhere,” she explains. She came across essays and academic texts here and there, but these either only scratched the surface or were targeted towards psychology students. “There’s [this pressure] where the minority wants to perform for the majority, like, ‘We can’t let them know that this happens to us too.’ So it felt like a space very rich for exploration.”
The book’s publisher Graywolf Press hypes that In the Dream House “explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.”
The writing process covered nearly two years for Machado, in-between publishing and then touring for Her Body and Other Parties and heavily adjusting the initial Dream House draft she submitted, which she now refers to as skeletal. Then there’s the fact of the material, revisiting a traumatic experience while also searching for historical and sociological context. (“It’s just exhausting,” she admits.) She barely worked on a schedule, writing “as things moved” her. “I spent weeks just reading, since there’s a lot of research involved in tackling certain historical parts of the book,” she continues. “I spent one week where I barely wrote a word except from taking notes. I was just reading through papers and articles and all kinds of things. Then I wasn’t writing at all, I was just reading and trying to process and synthesize all the information. There were just a lot of steps to it.”
Machado and Graywolf have exclusively shared the stunning cover for In the Dream House with EW, which you can see below. The memoir publishes Oct. 1, and is available for pre-order.