In the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods

Matt Bell, 1980-

Book - 2013

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New York : Soho Press [2013], ©2013.
Physical Description
312 pages ; 24 cm
Main Author
Matt Bell, 1980- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

In his charmingly bizarre and disturbing debut novel, Bell (How They Were Found, 2010) paints an unorthodox portrait of a troubled marriage. An unnamed couple, recently wed, move to a remote woodland home to start a family amid nature's serenity. The husband, once a fisherman by trade, labors with his hands. The wife creates things with her voice, singing physical objects into existence and altering nature's course. Meanwhile, a mysterious bear lords over the surrounding woods. When the wife's first pregnancy results in miscarriage, the husband covertly swallows the aborted fetus, which whispers cryptic commands and dark secrets to him, driving him to resent his equally enigmatic wife for her hope that she will someday give birth. They grow increasingly distant as she miscarries time and again, until at last she conceives a child that only drives the couple even further apart. Bell finds whimsy in despair and reality in the absurd in this absorbingly virtuosic near fairy tale about marital struggle and personal reclamation. The result is a novel of catastrophic beauty and staggering originality. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Here Bell (creative writing, Northern Michigan Univ.; How They Were Found) puts the fable in fabulism. This spare, devastating novel peels back layers of geography, modernity, and even proper nouns. Its characters—husband and wife, fingerling and foundling, bear and squid—share in their universality something with the woodsmen and witches and stepchildren of fairy tales past. This story follows a husband and wife as they arrive, freshly married, in a wilderness and try to start a family. The wife is endowed with great powers of creation; she can sing objects, and even whole worlds, into being. When their attempts to conceive result in miscarriage, she resorts to other means to provide their family with offspring, while her husband is haunted by the ghost of their unborn son. Their grief divides them, and they must separately grapple with the bear who rules their woods and the squid who dwells in their lake, with labyrinths of memory, and with the anger of children both injured and unrecalled. VERDICT Bell's story is as beautiful as it is ruinous. A tragedy of fantastic proportions, the book's musical, often idiosyncratic prose will carry its readers into an unfamiliar but unforgettable world. [For more on Bell and this title, see the Editors' Picks feature on page 34 and a Q&A with the author on page 96.—Ed.]—Molly McArdle, Library Journal [Page 90]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This debut novel from up-and-coming Bell (Cataclysm Baby) is a dark, intriguingly odd fable about what it means to be a father. The narrator (no character is given a proper name) takes his new bride to a secluded house in an area populated only by wildlife, including an overly symbolic she-bear. The carefully wrought prose takes its cues from magical realism: "Beneath the unscrolling story of new sun and stars and then-lonely moon, began to sing some new possessions" to furnish their rustic abode. Things get stranger still when the man consumes his still-born son's body. The couple struggles to conceive again, until one day the woman brings home a young child dubbed "the foundling." The man can't accept the boy and, haunted by his dead child's ghost, descends into madness. The sketchy narrative and characters, however, interest Bell less than large-scale themes: the oedipal competition between a father and son for a mother's love; threatened masculinity; and, more elliptically, man's impact on the environment. This challenging, boldly experimental attempt at myth-building may resonate with equally ambitious readers, but offers fewer rewards to those looking for narrative pleasures. Agent: Kirby Kim, William Morris Endeavor. (June) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Escaping the busy confusion of his homeland and moving to an almost-uninhabited lakeshore where he plans on living simply and raising a family, a man descends into rage, obsession and an abstract sense of reality when his wife suffers multiple miscarriages. A first novel by the author of How They Were Found.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Escaping the busy confusion of his homeland and moving to an almost-uninhabited lakeshore where he plans on living simply and raising a family, a man descends into rage, obsession, and an abstract sense of reality when his wife suffers multiple miscarriages.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

“For readers weary of literary fiction that dutifully obeys the laws of nature, here’s a story that stirs the Brothers Grimm and Salvador Dali with its claws . . . as gorgeous as it is devastating.”—The Washington PostIn this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife's beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.   This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.