Introductions: Carmen Maria Machado
February 5, 2020
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
In the story “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado tells a version of a story about a woman who cooks and eats the liver her husband has bought, and then unable to afford another, cuts out her own liver to feed him. She writes, “That may not be the version of the story you’re familiar with. But I assure you, it’s the one you need to know.”
Carmen Maria Machado bravely, brilliantly, blazingly writes the stories we need to know. Her first book, the collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties, is full of haunting and transfixing tales, which give new windows into women’s lives, into violence large and small, into desire, into love. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Her newest book, In the Dream House, is similarly brilliant, necessary, and haunting. Structurally dazzling, it uses a kaleidoscope of vignettes that capture different elements of the dream house to articulate what it means to live in an abusive relationship, to have the world shrink and expand in funhouse proportions, to have reality constantly shifting as love is anger, is violence, is forgotten, is fractured, is sex, is tenderness, is a dream house.
Machado begins the book exploring how the stories that appear in our archives reflect who holds power. Stories of women, and of queerness, are thus largely absent, and so Machado’s dream house—the dream house as Bluebeard, the dream house as tragedy of the commons, the dream house as picaresque, as destination, as utopia, as lesson learned—rights a wrong of historical absence.
As I read this work, it pulses like a heart, and gives us, as readers, the feeling of someone fighting to see, to be seen, and to live. It is the rarest of gifts—a book of brokenness and hard fought wonder. A book that, as Machado describes love, “could push the earth inch by inch through the cosmos until it collided heart-first with the sun.”
Carmen Maria Machado gave a lecture at Town Hall Seattle on January 24, 2020, as part of our 2019/20 Women You Need to Know (WYNK) Series; SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey gave this introduction.