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Not To Be Overlooked

By Natalia Alvarez and Alicja Baranowska

Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of a non-fiction memoir, In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and fiction title, Everyone is Still Alive by Cathy Renzenbrink.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s latest release, In the Dream House, is a non-fiction memoir published in 2019 by Graywolf Press. In this novel, she invites readers to look at her relationship with a woman that, at first feels like a fairytale, but quickly turns both physically and emotionally abusive. Machado’s hope with this memoir was to shine a light on queer domestic abuse in a way that would keep readers engaged and open a conversation about the lack of representation shown in stories and media for abuse in queer relationships.

Throughout the novel, readers are taken through various instances of relevancy in Machado’s childhood leading into her adulthood, eventually leading to her meeting her abuser and beginning a relationship. The author always refers to herself as “you” keeping a distance from the version of herself she is writing about. As things begin to turn, she tries to convince herself that these changes in her partner are normal, often using footnotes at the bottom of pages to connect certain words of phases in her story to those of fairytales or various pieces of literature. Machado formats each chapter as a short one-to-two-page story that is titled in relation to the contents of the story, for example: Dream House as Romance Novel, Dream House as Daydream, Dream House as Lost in Translation. While the “Dream House” she refers to on the surface can be seen as the house where she lived with her partner, it also represents a state of mind for the author. Somewhere that is constantly evolving with each new experience, both good and bad.

I wanted to review this book, not for lack of mainstream popularity, but because I believe this is the kind of book everyone should read to gain a better understanding of queer relationships. We should never overlook the experiences Machado and many others like her have had and we should always continue to push for equal representation. In the chapter titled "Dream House as Queer Villainy" there is a quote that says, “We deserve to have our wrongdoings represented as much as out heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity.” I feel like this is the main message Machado wanted her readers to take with them and I know this is something I will keep in mind for a very long time.

Machado is also the author of the award-winning short story collection Her Body and Other Parties.

Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cathy Rentzenbrink has been amongst my favourite authors ever since I read 𝘋𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳 last year. It was such a personal and powerful memoir and it resonated so heavily with me.

Everyone Is Still Alive is Cathy Rentzenbrink’s fiction debut and I’m definitely not disappointed by it! With Dear Reader, it was the voice and the way the book was written, that resonated the most with me and I was so pleased that the author’s debut novel gave me similar feelings.

Cathy Rentzenbrink has a very observational style of writing, with human nature always at the forefront of the story. It’s one of those books that make you think about decisions you make and those made by others around you. Everyone is Still Alive makes the reader think about why we behave in certain ways and how that affects those around us.

Ultimately, Cathy Rentzenbrink’s novel is about the family, Juliet, Liam and Charlie, and the community of their neighbours of Magnolia Road. As a result, the book has a little small town and a close-nit community atmosphere. I enjoyed that a lot. Everyone is Still Alive is a slow-paced book, but it allows the reader to get to know the characters and their motivations far better. The realities of family life, raising children and how unexpected life can be are all topics at the heart of Everyone is Still Alive. The characters in Cathy Rentzenbrink’s book are raw and real and you get invested in their lives very quickly.

Everyone Is Still Alive is a story of family, grief, loss and finding yourself. All those hard topics that Cathy Rentzenbrink writes so beautifully about. It’s once again not an easy book at times, but one that will stay in my memory for a long while. I would definitely recommend reading it if you’re a fan of literary fiction or looking for reading something different this summer.



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