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In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods [Hardcover]

Matt Bell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
RRP: 25.00
Price: 18.68 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

20 Jun 2013
A newly-wed couple escape a busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to lead a simple life there, fishing the lake, trapping the nearby woods and building a house upon the dirt between 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... A powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: SOHO PRESS (20 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616952539
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616952532
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.3 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 281,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense and satisfying for the truly intrepid 6 Oct 2013
First and as usual, I received this book from a giveaway of some sort. Unfortunately I'm no longer at all sure which one so I can't give credit where it's due. Suffice to say, however, that I didn't pay for it but will nonetheless give my candid opinions below.

Summarizing this novel is approaching impossible because it has only the most tenuous thread of anything real or concrete about it. On the surface, it is the tale of a man and his wife and their life together in the wilderness. They try to have a child but their first born arrives terribly deformed and the man, tasked with disposing of the malformed product of their love, secretly eats the baby. After the first ten pages which I have just summarized, things go on pretty much in this bizarre manner for the rest of the novel.

So to the positive side of things, this book has a terrible and mythological feel to it that fills the reader with something which can be considered to approach awe. Matt Bell pulls no punches and will write just about anything to get his point across. His style is dark, lyrical and deeply satisfying. One reads on and closely for fear that something important might be missed. The story brings to mind ancient religious traditions with turtles piled upon turtles as far as the eye can see or the mind comprehend. This is the mode in which this story unfurls.

To the negative side, all this spun cotton of words, this Gordian knot of a narrative does, have a distinct tendency to make your mind wander and it requires the utmost concentration to follow what's going on and even after utmost attention there's no guarantee that you actually understand what is going on. But, that is very much the tendency of the mythological.
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In Matt Bell's debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (Soho Press), we are lured into familiar territory--the world of fables and tall tales, where our expectations of the surreal, the grotesque, and the magical are fulfilled in ever-expanding layers. But beyond the illusions, beyond the world building, darkness, and the unknown is an allegory--a harsh yet beautiful lesson on what it means to be a man, a father, and a husband; to be a woman, a mother, and a wife. Told in layers, fractured into sections, unfolding in a grand tapestry that weaves emotions and actions into a complex series of destinies and consequences, this novel is not an easy read. But the reward is dense prose, powerful psychoanalysis, and the unsettling feeling that our own actions today--many miles from the woods with its failing bear, and its lake with its undulating squid--might be bound by similar rules and outcomes.

Our story begins in a land where a man and wife have left behind the busy city and the noise of commerce for the peace, beauty, and solitude of a distant body of water, a forest filled with life, and a simple plot of land upon which to build their humble home. But as the sentences unfold, the language teases anxiety out of every split log and trapped animal, every shadow and echo and bird call. Reality is not the same here--songs bring life to the quiet land and put moons in the sky--building, destroying, and transforming:

Things were odder here than they were elsewhere, and most stories were not written as clearly: On the other side of the lake, across the mountains, the truth had been inscribed in the stars, and could not be changed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Stark Fable Set in the Dirt 22 May 2013
By Richard LeComte - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Matt Bell's novel takes place in a mytho-poetic realm that appears to be an extended metaphor about marriage. In an isolated house in some dirt by a lake -- all of which have their own secrets -- a man and a woman try to start a family. Bell eschews specifics to create a kind of Green World, a forested area of dreams and nightmares in which the man's hunting and fishing, the woman's ability to sing objects, stars and even a moon into life, and a mysterious and threatening bear all play a part. The couple try to have children, but all their attempts save the last end in miscarriages -- the first, through the bizarre act of the husband, becomes another character, a kind of anti-conscience prodding the husband to lose his love for his wife.

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.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars entrancing 22 May 2013
By Yalensian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While the praise this novel has garnered is somewhat overwrought, even by the hyperbolic standards of blurbs (come on: Calvino? Borges? Kafka?!), the book is very, very good, and at least one blurber, Benjamin Percy, gets it precisely right: "Matt Bell does not write sentences--he writes spells. . . . This book . . . will grip you in an otherworldly trance." And that's just what Bell's prose does. It grips you. Its weird constructions and odd juxtapositions, its jarring cadences and surprising rhythms entrance you, weave a spell over you, almost from the very first word, and the book doesn't let go until the very end, until Bell has told his strange, inventive tale in his strange inventive prose. No: it doesn't let go even then.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Style Not Enough Substance For Me 3 Aug 2013
By Susan K. Schoonover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Though IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS may be written in a lyrical, poetic style this does not make up for a storyline that is so strange that at times it is almost incomprehensible. Yes, this is an original book and is at times shocking and disturbing but such traits do not always equate with good or even readable fiction. The main character engages in a repulsive act near the beginning of the novel (and repercussions of it echo throughout the story) that will likely turn many prospective readers' stomachs and gave me an even more negative opinion of the book. Even the too long title of the pretentious and self-consciously weird little novel annoyed me. I can't give it more than one star as truthfully I hated it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bell has crafted a frightening world inhabited by complex and imperfect characters 27 Jun 2013
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Matt Bell's IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS presents a lengthy fairy tale about love, loss and lies. It's violent, dark and utterly heartbreaking.

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. Their child fears the father. The lost child in the husband sows doubt and discontent in his father. They even betray the creatures and the order of the world around them.

IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS gives the reader intriguing metaphors for what it means to have a marriage, to be a parent, to suffer a miscarriage, and to grow apart. It evokes the sense of living with the memory and consequence of one's actions.The language, tone and events of the book are biblical or mythological. Every change in their relationship marks a change in their physical world. In the words of the husband, "And now our story was ending, and so also its world."

In a clever juxtaposition, because their world is so small, each element becomes monumentally important. There are no wasted moments or characters to be found. Bear or Lake or Moon take on far more meaning than they would to characters in the regular, physical world. Each element becomes an embodiment of anger or violence or heartbreak.

The book wisely denies the reader and the characters easy resolutions, but does offer at least a glimmer of hope. Bell has crafted a frightening world inhabited by complex and imperfect characters, and by doing so, he has also written a wonderful novel.

Reviewed by Josh Mallory
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars heartbreaking mythical portrayal of a breaking marriage 21 Jun 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This is, at its core, the story of a married couple who miscarries too many times for their marriage to survive intact, and who begin to take drastic steps away from each other because of it. However, this story is told in a magical world inhabited only by the two of them, an armored bear and a giant squid, an extra moon the wife sings into the sky, and the strange half- and ghost-children they collect around them. It's a fairytale for the modern world.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did--I knew it was being exalted for its experimental prose and wasn't sure it would be my cup of tea. Very, very pleasantly surprised (and also fairly heartbroken) to find that the author uses ostensible mythologizing/fabulism to capture something so real: the feeling of a once-close relationship that is failing because of irreparable distrust, and the awful heaviness of realizing it is too late to seek redemption from the person you care about.

Highly recommended--unlike anything else I've ever read.
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