Highlights from In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Cover of In the Dream House
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Highlights from this book

  • If your chin turns yellow, it means you’re in love…The trick, or maybe it’s the punch line, is that the yellow always comes off on your skin. The dandelion yields every time. It has no wiles, no secrets, no sense of self-preservation. And so it goes that, even as children, we understand something we cannot articulate: The diagnosis never changes. We will always be hungry, will always want. Our bodies and minds will always crave something, even if we don’t recognize it.

  • If you could harness that energy—that constant, roving hunger—you could do wonders with it. You could push the earth inch by inch through the cosmos until it collided heart-first with the sun.

  • Your female crushes were always floating past you, out of reach, but she touches your arm and looks directly at you and you feel like a child buying something with her own money for the first time.

  • Your heart launches itself against your rib cage like an animal.

  • 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. That is to say, queers—real-life ones—do not deserve representation, protection, and rights because they are morally pure or upright as a people. They deserve those things because they are human beings, and that is enough.

  • And it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing: the idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right. It is simply a state of being—one subject to politics, to its own social forces, to larger narratives, to moral complexities of every kind. So bring on the queer villains, the queer heroes, the queer sidekicks and secondary characters and protagonists and extras. They can be a complete cast unto themselves. Let them have agency, and then let them go.

  • You wonder if, at any point in history, some creature scuttled over what would, eons later, be the living room, and cocked its head to the side to listen to the faintest of sounds: yelling, weeping. Ghosts of a future that hadn’t happened yet.

  • “Safe as houses” is something closer to “the house always wins.” Instead of a shared structure providing shelter, it means that the person in charge is secure; everyone else should be afraid.

  • A reminder, perhaps, that abusers do not need to be, and rarely are, cackling maniacs. They just need to want something, and not care how they get it.

  • She is always trying to win. You want to say to her: We cannot advance together if you are like this. 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.

  • Most types of domestic abuse are completely legal.

  • But the nature of archival silence is that certain people’s narratives and their nuances are swallowed by history; we see only what pokes through because it is sufficiently salacious for the majority to pay attention.

  • The trouble with letting people see you at your worst isn’t that they’ll remember; it’s that you’ll remember.

    — Sarah Manguso
  • The fact is, people settle near volcanoes because the resulting soil is extraordinary, dense with nutrients from the ash. In this dangerous place their fruit is sweeter, their crops taller, their flowers more radiant, their yield more bountiful. The truth is, there is no better place to live than in the shadow of a beautiful, furious mountain.

  • You celebrated him despite his position on gays marrying because he was the best thing possible at that moment; imperfect in a way that affected you but was generally good for the world. You did not believe this was a battle that would be won in your lifetime, and so you resolved yourself to live in that wobbly space where your humanity and rights were openly debated on cable news, and the defense of them was not a requirement for the presidency. You were already a woman, so you knew. Occupying that space was your goddamned specialty.

  • “Uncle Nick,” you say, “I am a lesbian, and my girlfriend just broke up with me.” Then the wrecking ball goes clear through the dam, and you begin to bawl. “Ohhhhh,” he says. “Ohhhhh.” You are wrapped in his arms; he is hugging you so tight. “Your heart is broken. I understand. Everyone’s heart breaks in the same way.”

  • These stories are so common that they are no longer shocking in any meaningful sense; it is more surprising when there is no evidence of a talented man having hurt someone at all.

  • I imagine that, one day, I will invite young queers over for tea and cheese platters and advice, and I will be able to tell them: you can be hurt by people who look just like you. Not only can it happen, it probably will, because the world is full of hurt people who hurt people.

  • Nonstalgia (noun) The unsettling sensation that you are never be able to fully access the past; that once you are departed from an event, some essential quality of it is lost forever. A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean that it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two of you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable to.

  • When I was a kid, I learned that you develop immunity when an illness rages through your body. Your body is brilliant, even when you are not. It doesn’t just heal—it learns. It remembers. (All of this, of course, if the virus doesn’t kill you first.) After the Dream House, I developed a sixth sense. It goes off at random times—meeting a new classmate or coworker, a friend’s new girlfriend, a stranger at a party. A physical revulsion that comes on the heels of nothing at all, something akin to the sour liquid rush of saliva that precedes vomiting. Inconvenient, irritating, but important: my brilliant body’s brilliant warning.