Arts & Culture

Machado on Abuse in Queer Relationships

Terrence Shambley, A&E Editor

On Nov. 18, The Friends of the Hennepin County Library brought award-winning author Carmen Maria Machado to Minneapolis to discuss her new memoir “Into the Dream House.” 

Dream House is Machado’s haunting follow-up to her 2017 debut, “Her Body and Other Parties,” a collection of short stories that was a finalist for the National Book Award. Dream House functions as a close examination of queer relationships through the lens of abuse. At the talk, Machado questioned people’s tendency to regard queer relationships with “heroism,” as if queer people can do no wrong. She noted that, in these community conversations, people do not have a tangible definition of what abuse is. Instead of people taking the responsibility of “naming something when its bad,” conversations around abuse tend to focus on whether or not what happened was legal. Abuse can look a lot of different ways, Machado said, and we can start by learning how to identify it. “When you strip away all the trappings and details, abuse always looks the same,” she said. She added that abuse happening in queer relationships does not mean that queer people deserve less rights. “We fail communities when we make them dance for freedom instead of just giving it to them.”

“Why did you write this book now?” Curtis Sittenfield, moderator and bestselling novelist herself, asked Machado. 

“Because I was constipated and had to let this story out,” Machado replied. She shared that she wrote a story about domestic violence while in an abusive relationship herself, but did not know that the relationship was abusive at the time. Machado said that memoirs “aren’t just about regurgitating what happened to you,” but also taking what happened to you and “making it into beautiful art.” 

Form is an important element to consider when discussing beautiful art, and Dream House’s structure is an interesting one. The book does not move linearly through time, but rather, it jumps back and forth and all through Machado’s life. The chapter titles lead with “Dream House as” and each chapter functions as a different perspective to consider the book through. Title names include “Dream House as Queer Villainy,” “Dream House as Star-Crossed Lovers” and “Dream House as Famous Lesbian Cult.” Machado explained that the chapter titles served as writing prompts for her to “unlock the meditative” elements of her story. For Machado, the book was brought to life from its structure, and everything else naturally fell into place after that.

 The hour-long talk ended with questions from the audience, and someone asked Machado for advice geared to young writers. “Don’t sell a book before it’s finished,” she said immediately. She mentioned putting her self-care to the side while working on Dream House, sleeping very little, and writing until nights and mornings blended into one and the same. She does not recommend this. Also, young writers, Machado calls for us to consider both where we are in our life at the time of writing the book, and where we plan on being in life by the time the book is published. Books are typically published 1-2 years after a publisher accepts them; we’re bound to be in a completely different headspace by the time the book is on bookstore shelves. Hopefully, we’re being paid handsomely to discuss the thing. 

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