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In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods Paperback – May 27, 2014
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Praise for In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
“Mr. Bell has written a gripping, grisly tale of a husband’s descent into and ultimate emergence from some kind of personal hell.”
—The New York Times
“It's hard to imagine a book more difficult to pull off, but Bell proves as self-assured as he is audacious . . . Bell's novel isn't just a joy to read, it's also one of the smartest meditations on the subjects of love, family and marriage in recent years . . . The novel is a monument to the uniqueness of every relationship, the possibility that love itself can make the world better, though of course it's never easy.”
"Somber, incantatory sentences to hold you within [Bell's] dreamlike creation . . . This unique book leaves you with the haunting lesson that even if you renounce and cast away your loved ones, you can never disown the memory of your deeds."
—The Wall Street Journal
"A blood-soaked fable . . . With this debut novel, Matt Bell [reworks] myths, rituals and fictions into something that can hold his visceral, primal vision. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods provides us with a new, unstable literary element, something scavenged from the old, something bright and wet and vital.”
—The Globe and Mail
“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 Post
“In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is an extraordinary achievement, telling a most ancient story in a way that feels uncannily new."
—The Boston Globe
"A big, slinking, dangerous fairy tale, the kind with gleaming fangs and blood around the muzzle and a powerful heart you can hear thumping from miles away. The story's ferocity is matched by Matt Bell's glorious sentences: sinuous and darkly magical, they are taproots of the strange."
—Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of Arcadia
"This is a fiercely original book—at once intimate and epic, visceral and philosophical—that sent me scurrying for adjectives, for precedents, for cover. Matt Bell commands the page with bold, vigorous prose and may well have invented the pulse-pounding novel of ideas."
—Jess Walter, National Book Award Finalist and author of Beautiful Ruins and We Live In Water
"Will haunt you long after you’ve read it, Bell’s novel mixes myth with a spooky, unsettling tone best described as 'Midwestern Borges' . . . something few writers, debut or otherwise, could so perfectly render."
—Jason Diamond, Flavorwire Literary Editor
—Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon and The Wilding
"There is a power here that is almost overwhelming. The force of the writing is derived from something elemental and primal. Unlike anything I have read in a long time."—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
"I have never come across a book that is so close to a dream state, with all the wildness and wonder and transfiguration that implies."
"Bell has crafted a terrifying and entirely spell-binding story about what it means to be a husband, a father, and, more simply, a man."
—The Daily Beast
"Bell puts the fable in fabulism . . . This spare, devastating novel . . . 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."
—Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
"A deeply affecting, wildly inventive fable on parenthood and loss."
“A time and space warp compounded—a treatise on marriage and its couplings, fertility and lack thereof, gender roles and selfishness, all scaled to dimensions that distort easily, and bent between a set of covers . . . Genre-bending innovation that bucks convention and pushes out into strange and haunting new places.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Bell’s House Upon the Dirt is the type of novel that seems not only to invite a re-reading, but to encourage it as well. The book revels in its imaginative powers, and demonstrates that not only have the characters in Bell’s novel succeeded in fashioning a new universe from our everyday world, but Bell, as a novelist has too.”
—The Brooklyn Rail
“Grief can be so powerful that it makes its own reality . . . Bell writes with a singular voice—folkloric tone and syntax but also very much aware of the modernity that it is ignoring . . . it’s a gut punch.”
—Austin American Statesman
"House feels like a Tolkien epic set inside Plato's cave written by Carl Jung, and it's just as frustrating and mind-boggling and satisfying as you'd expect a book with that description to be."
"A fantastical debut."
—Barnes and Noble Review
“Love is not all, but it always feels like it is . . . It's rare that somebody gets it right, which is why Matt Bell's debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, is so remarkable. It's one of the most thoughtful recent works of fiction on a subject that defeats many writers before they pick up their pens.”
—Northwest Public Radio
“A powerful work of art . . . a horror story, a nightmare as repulsive as it is brilliant . . . you will be haunted by it.”
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Surreal and dark and heartbreaking and astoundingly, astoundingly beautiful . . . It’s a creation myth written with incantatory prose.”
—Michele Filgate, New Hampshire Public Radio
"In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods expresses an absolute, singular understanding of the limits and compromises and compulsions of love."
—Philadelphia City Paper
"A novel of catastrophic beauty and staggering originality."
“In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods shatters narrative convention to deliver an allegory with the compelling power of mythology . . . Though unrelentingly heartbreaking, this debut novel wrings such beauty from pain that readers will relish every shred of sorrow.”
"Challenging, boldly experimental."
"Matt Bell’s visionary debut novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and Woods is one of the most singularly strange and beautiful and wondrous books to come along in a long time . . . [Bell] has invented an entirely new rhetoric of fiction and marked unique territory of his own."
"In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods has an impressive wealth to share with its reader . . . It’s a gorgeous, bottomless book."
“A haunting and hypnotic fever-dream . . . [that] lays bare all of our unconscious anxieties and forces recognition of, if not a direct confrontation with, very basic and primal fears. One suspects a Jungian psychologist would have a field day with this book.”
—American Short Fiction
“In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is both visionary and self-reflexive, full of horrifying deeps but also soulful ones, and does not disappoint—though it does haunt, as a chronicle of a world coming apart.”
"One of the year’s best novels . . . Bell keeps the narrative evolving, shifting groundrules and revealing more about his setting and characters. Disorienting and evocative, this is a fantastic reading experience."
—Vol 1. Brooklyn
"Meticulously designed, with a particular focus on the musicality of its sentences . . . An unflinching portrait of the struggle to keep a family intact."
"In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is a terrifying and wonderful fable."
—Flavorwire (STAFF PICK)
“I can’t decide which is more impressive: Bell’s boundless imagination or the spare-yet-lyrical, simply lovely way that he has woven words together to express it. Prepare to be mesmerized.”
"Bell cracks us in the mind's eye, drops us in inky waters, leaves us dripping with love potions and scarred from our innermost animal natures . . . In the tradition of Calvino, Borges, and Kafka, this is a mystic's tale—the gods here are most definitely crazy."
“In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods reads like a fairy tale with the emotion and psychology of a contemporary novel . . . [Bell keeps] his readers awake night after night. But it’s ok, because when you’re wrapped up in a Matt Bell story, you don’t want to sleep anyway.”
“In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is dreamlike and fairy-tale-like and fable-like. But like dreams and fairy tales and fables, there is something recognizable and real at its heart.”
—Fiction Writers Review
“It was heartbreaking and strange and sonorous, like being sung to sleep by something with far too many teeth.”
—Landon Mitchell, McNally Jackson Books
“In [the man and wife’s] opposition lies the heart of where all love falters—when wills clash and communication ceases. It’s as true in the magical house as it is in every other dwelling. We just don’t have mythical bear-children.”
“Centuries of storytelling have left us with the typical fabulist female used as a device to define the male characters in the story, with no real definition of her own. In this novel . . . the tension hangs on what she desires . . . pulsing and glittering at the bottom of all that misery is a quiet kind of hope in the love that is buried and unearthed between the protagonist and his wife, a love that leads the reader back to the dirt, back to the woods and lake, and, in the end, lets us all rest if not comfortably—for that is absent here—at least peacefully.”
"Hallucinatorily original mythic story-telling for grown-ups."
—Drawn and Quarterly Bookstore
“Mystic and vivid.”
—Central Michigan Life
Praise for Matt Bell
"Gorgeous, brilliant, often darkly hilarious and always moving . . . Written with an ingenuity and joy that call to mind Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities."
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
"No less original or thought-provoking than contemporary fabulist stalwarts like Aimee Bender or Etgar Keret, [he] expands the scope of experimental writing."
—Fiction Writers Review
"Matt Bell can do what so many fiction writers can't: Matt Bell can make anything happen."
—Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray
"Matt Bell has built a national reputation on his own terms, completely outside the support system of New York publishing, on the strength of his stories and novellas, which are wholly original and singularly his own."
"A compelling portrait both of the way a heated mind can come to recreate the world and of how fascination with such a mind can end up being its own sort of trap. A wonderful, obsessive novella."
—Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain
"His wild manipulation of form and genre makes the bulk of contemporary fiction feel bloodless and inert in comparison."
—Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times
"Bell brings us everything: symbolism, futurism à la David Ohle, devastation, surrealism, scenic energy, fractured fairytales, consumption, struggle, claustrophobia, and family decay . . . [But] Bell knows how to keep his world in check, his every word balanced against another, delicately, like a system of weights."
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The novel is at times hypnotic, at times repetitive and at times gross. With characters this mythic, one comes to believe that Bell is saying something about marriage and children, and readers will come to their own conclusions about what that statement is. In the meantime, you'll need to adjust your reading to Bell's unusual style.
The story centers on an unnamed husband and wife who eschew their families' society beyond the mountains for a mystical world of their own. While most couples figuratively set out to create their own world, this couple does so literally. They live in a cave, while he builds their home and they begin to plan their family.
This mythic world is far removed from our own. She is able to sing things to life and into existence, even at one point a looming second moon that carries a promise and a threat. There is a menacing, sentient bear roaming and ruling the woods, while a squid haunts the lake. He fishes for their dinner, and she sings to create their household needs.
At last they are expecting, but the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage. In the first of many shocking acts by the narrator, he consumes the stillborn child while his wife is unconscious. He wants the child to be a part of him, as it had been a part of his wife. From this point forward, the potential of that child never leaves the husband and is a constant reminder of what could have been. He gives a voice to the husband's darker impulses.
They suffer many failed attempts at having children. She announces she is pregnant a final time. There is a son, but the husband is immediately suspicious about the child's origin. From here, the deceptions and betrayals between them pile up.
As their emotional relationship changes, so their world changes around them. The house grows larger, emptier. The bear begins to encroach upon the house. The wife's appetites turn bloodier, as she rejects the fish caught by her husband for her.Read more ›
This is a tricky book to write about. I'm not sure how much I should say about the plot, so I'm not giving away anything that isn't already in the book's blurb. This is really only a tiny portion of the novel, but if I went on any farther, you would probably think I was talking about a strange fever dream and not an actual book. It's that surreal. I will say, though, that there is a giant bear in the woods, a squid/whale in the depths of the lake, and a labyrinthine series of chambers filled with memories under the house.
In addition to being unsure of how to write about this book, I'm not entirely sure how I felt about it. On one hand, the writing is absolutely beautiful, and man can Bell construct a sentence. His words are poetic and the book's tone evokes the magical fables of old. On the other hand, this book is very dark and disturbing; there were some grotesque descriptions that made me feel nauseated. Let's just say they involved dead fetuses, ghost children, and horrible, disfiguring injuries. This is not a book for the faint of heart.
I also thought there were some problems with the plotting and pacing. I had no idea where this book was going most of the time, and I would have liked more momentum to propel me forward in my reading.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is unlike any book you've read before. Newlyweds move into the wilderness to raise a family apart from the world, Husband... Read morePublished 29 days ago by Mary DeMay
It's hard to know what to say about In The House etc etc. The book is a nightmare, but in a good way, if that's possible. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Briane F. Pagel Jr.
This may be personal preference here, but I'm not really a fan of prose poetry dressed up as a novel. I think this writer should be honored, but it's just not for me.Published 11 months ago by Becky Bosshart
If you've read Matt Bell (which you should be doing), then you might want to take a look at this. He's an excellent writer and this is a pretty good read. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Ziln
Sick, SICK, SICK! About the narrators thoughts after he had eaten his wife's miscarried child. Threw this book in the trash after reading the first 2 chapters. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Thomas F. Bryan, Jr.
The overwrought reviews of this book are ridiculous (and just more evidence of how increasingly unreliable the incestuous world of book reviewing is becoming). Read morePublished 17 months ago by MountainView
An exceptional work by an up-and-coming authors to watch. The book is a literary fable, one that truly conjures the essence of its setting: the woods by the lake. Read morePublished 20 months ago by WayneChicago