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on February 4, 2016
the cartographer's girl is the single best short story i've ever read. The rest of the collection doesn't resonate with me as strongly as the first short in this book, but, i'd buy it again just to read the cartographer's girl once more.
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on October 23, 2010
When reading Matt Bell's very fine new collection of stories, "horror" and "suspense" writers like Peter Straub and Stephen King often come to mind; yet like Brian Evenson's work, there's rarely a moment in Bell's writing that strays from what would be considered literary (in style or in depth of meaning) although elements of what we consider "genre" fiction are apparent on every page--mystery, horror, suspense, sci-fi.

These stories are heavy, they are beautifully written, they are deep, they are bold, formally and thematically, yet, no matter how form busting or experimental they can be, they are always page turners in the best sense.
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on April 5, 2017
Rated 2.5 of 5

<em>How They Were Found</em> is a collection of thirteen short stories by Matt Bell.

There doesn't appear to be any unifying theme to these stories other than that there written by Bell and perhaps that Bell is showing how much he enjoys playing with form. Perhaps a sense of loss, might unify the stories, though the title of the collection rather denies this connection.

Typically I don't care for stories that feature form over storytelling, but one of my favorite stories in this collection is "An Index of How Our Family Was Killed" which is pretty much just what the title implies ... an index, or a list, of how people were killed. Somehow, through the dispassionate method of a simple list we get a sense of the resignation and despair of a dead family. A thought-provoking 'story' and one of the few times that the uniqueness of form actually worked to tell the story.

"Dredge" also stood out for me, but then I tend to like the more macabre stories and the idea of preserving dead bodies certainly is macabre.

On the other end of the spectrum were stories like "Mantodea" in which - well, how do I put this? ... a man has an adventure with the mouth of a lady at a bar. I got nothing from it and was really just annoyed at the time I spent reading it. And "Wolf Parts" which was a re-boot of the Little Red Riding story. Fairy Tale re-tellings are popular and there are too many people doing them, and typically much better than this.

The rest of the collection falls somewhere in between these which makes this collection a very average, uneven read.

This collection contains the following:

"The Cartographer's Girl"
"The Receiving Tower"
"His Last Great Gift"
"Her Ennead"
"Hold On To Your Vacuum"
"Dredge"
"Ten Scenes From A Movie Called Mercy"
"Wolf Parts:
"Mantodea"
"The Leftover"
"A Certain Number of Bedrooms, A Certain Number of Baths"
"The Collectors"
"An Index of How Our Family Was Killed"

Looking for a good book? If you like stories than play with form more than tell stories, and have an edge to them, then <em>How They Were Found</em> by Matt Bell is a collection you might enjoy.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgally, in exchange for an honest review.
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on November 30, 2015
Matt Bell's How They Were Found would not be considered traditionally literary, but is full of 13 skillfully written short stories. Better defined as "experimental fiction", many of the pieces within contain aspects of magical realism or other genre material. 'Wolf Parts' takes the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood and breaks it apart into a series of what-if scenarios; each paragraph makes a, sometimes sexual and frequently dark, change to the story or invents a new ending. In 'His Last Great Gift', a man claims divine influence commands him to build a new messiah out of motors and other electronic parts. Each story plays with the idea of what literary fiction really is, delivering excellent writing in a contemporary style.

Matt Bell's unique voice is present in each of his stories and makes his work stand apart from even other pieces of contemporary fiction. Some people have described it as 'spellbinding', which seems the most apt way to express its quality. Bell's sentences flow into one another almost poetically and pull the reader through the narrative. The collection contains a story titled 'Her Ennead'; in it a pregnant mother compares the child in her womb to a tumor, a seed, a thunderstorm, a knife. The language used is repetitive. One paragraph starts each short sentence with the same two words. The repetition gives the prose an almost lyrical quality. In the final story of the collection, 'An Index of How Our Family Was Killed', the narrator recounts the deaths of his family members. However, all of his thoughts are in alphabetical order. Sentences at the beginning of the story start with the letter 'A' and the final lines start with a 'Z'. Most of the phrases are short, again reminiscent of literary fiction and its lines that say more than what is on the page. Bell’s experimentation with subject and form push the boundaries of what is considered ‘literary’ and offer a truly unique experience.
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on August 13, 2011
Not at all a typical collection of short stories here. Matt Bell delivers a set of blueprints and indices with the utmost tender caress of detail to the psychological degredation festering among family, compatriots, combatants and the disaffected in his work How They Were Found. Read closely enough and you'll find elements of fantasy and sci-fi, but what you'll really discover is pure introspection amid the onslaught of grief and the bizarre, futile attempts of disassociation from it.

Stylistically the stories are wildly dissimilar, though all build a slow momentum to conclusions that are anything but. Stories that involve the best intentioned investigators who can't help their attachment to the evidence, wild impromptu trysts of self-devouring in barroom lavatories, the story of sibling hoarders and their blind pursuit of each other buried within their castle, the detached indexing of the slow and gruesome disintegration of a family, and a priest's obsession with the potential salvation of a new, steampunked Virgin Mary. Lingering stories that keep the readers guessing as to the characters' interweaved histories.

Bell's strength is evidenced by his incredible knack for manifesting a measured though chilling terror, but also for his unorthodox unlayering of the circumstances revealing the disturbing states in which his characters find themselves. Some of the stories suffer slightly from overcomplexity but there's no doubt about their powerful themes and Matt Bell's potential. A quality read.
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on March 1, 2011
13 Stories, as if the total itself speaks of not being afraid of tackling superstitious subjects. How They Were Found is a stroke of genius in a time when the small presses are inundating the industry with talent. Matt Bell may very well take the title as King of Small Press fiction. His prose is both terse and compelling all in one. His medium is unique, his subject matter well chosen, and his wit cannot help but be noticed as he compiles story after story, and each story begs the question: What is this story telling me. A mixture of fairy tale, theology gone awry, and straight forward mystery and gore, Matt Bell has written a book that should be read by all those considered literati.
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on December 16, 2010
I devoured Matt Bell's collection in one sitting. There was an age when authors were called dream spinners, where the tales they wove could make you forget time passing, as if the voice of the clock had stopped. Matt Bell is a dream spinner, and though the yarns spun here are toned in darker shades, they are enthralling, alluring, captivating. From "Wolf Parts," a glittering gem of a retelling of the classic fairy tale, "Little Red Riding Hood" where each paragraph is a distinct facet of a story you thought you knew to the shock and sympathy evoked as Homer and Langley Collyer smother beneath the weight of their precious possessions in "The Collectors"; from the chronicle of the piteous drowned heroine destined perhaps to never rest in peace of "Dredge" to the alphabetical account of "An Index of How Our Family Was Killed," which packs a wallop in its simplicity and austerity, this book is one in which to lose your way, led astray by a master storyteller, a magician of words, a conjuror of worlds and I can't wait to discover where he'll take us next.
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on December 23, 2010
How They Were Found is a book made out of contradictions. Characters die left and right, but still there is hope. Everyone is looking to stitch together a ruptured world, to map nonexistent places and open doors into them, to make sense of the senseless, but still there is careful order and architecture. There are passionate stories about the most sensitive subjects, delivered in calm, measured prose, in carefully constructed architectures.
Read the rest of the review[...].
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on November 29, 2011
Matt Bell has inspired in me a love of short stories. This book will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you squirm (you'll know what I'm talking about - I will just say 'freezer' for those of you who have read it).

Until reading this book I enjoyed short stories by Tobias Wolff and T.C. Boyle, and some of them are great, but I never really loved them to the extent that I have loved some of the stories in HOW THEY WERE FOUND. I can't wait for CATACLYSM BABY (April, 2012)!

I highly recommend this book.
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on March 6, 2012
These are crazy good stories. I have my favorites, but the approach in each makes things that cannot possibly be new seem fresh and never before seen. There is an emotional urgency, a pleading, to the stories as well that makes them all the more gripping and fascinating. This is my first experience with Bell, but I'm definitely hooked. I want more. Can't wait to read "Cataclysm Baby."
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