Celia Small has spent years planning her engagement party, from the food she’ll serve to the dress she’ll wear. When she finally met her fiance, it was less a romantic event than a satisfying check mark next to the last item on a long list of tasks. Now Celia’s big night has arrived, and nothing can stop her from fulfilling a lifetime’s worth of dreams. Nothing, that is, except her hated housemates, each planning a party for this same evening. Suddenly careening between future in-laws, radical feminists, and an Alice in Wonderland costume party, Celia veers off the path to married bliss, and along a path of suspicious raspberry tarts that lead her into very strange places.
If you are lucky, you will come across scrumptious books like Dreamhouse at least once in your lifetime. A loose (adult) retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Habens, in a stroke of pure genius, reinvents all the characters in Alice in Wonderland giving them a distinctly human hue that retains all the craziness that characterizes the denizens of Wonderland. Dreamhouse is a treat for the evil little girl in you who loves irreverent situations, who delights in crazy retellings and who simply loves a story that is soaked deep into the narrative and can mean something different every time you read it.
If you read the title, you will be misled into thinking that the “dreamhouse” is descriptive of that wonderful house that people assume little girls dream of, you know, the one with the white picket fences, pretty poppies in the nicely kept yard, stuff like that. Instead, Dreamhouse, very literally means “dream house” a place where dreams happen. Okay, that sounds campy and it’s not meant to.
Celia Small is getting engaged and on the night of her engagement dinner, her two horrible roommates throw parties of their own. So in that one house, there are three simultaneous parties occurring and one of them has um…some “magic” tarts that Celia just happens to eat. There is a logic to the narrative that sort of explains how the wonderland is achieved. One of the parties is a costume party, therefore the rabbit costumes etc, Celia’s delusions come from the magic tarts and other, uh, substances that may be around. The mad queens etc are Celia’s parents, in laws etc.
The construction of the popular story is firm enough that it holds up the very real and very contemporary themes in the book. What it means to be oppressed, what it means to be a woman and what freedom really tastes like. I was also impressed by how Habens inserted the transvestite issue and that rape, regardless of gender, is rape. I also really liked Celia’s gradual evolution and the ending is bloody fantastic. Haben’s gleeful experimentation with language to express her characters’ emotions in a veritable manner is nothing short of genius.
So, after all is said and done, I recommend this book. Wholeheartedly. It tells a wonderful story in a strange new way that I found absolutely fascinating.