In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, by Matt Bell

meganmilks's review against another edition

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i really love Matt's short fiction, have taught WOLF PARTS a few times now, and had been looking forward to reading his first novel all summer -- even saved it as a reward for finishing up a bunch of other stuff. i'm disappointed.

the epic mythicality of the narrative is at times quite awesome (i particularly enjoyed the squid-whale) and there is a lot to love in its fearless gruesomeness. but ultimately i couldn't get past the narrative's reification of masculine/feminine principles, its obsession with WIFE/MOTHER, HUSBAND/FATHER, SON/CHILD, especially the association of the wife figure with blood and the moon (a blood moon, actually). in the logic of the myth, there can only ever be one (male/female) couple, with child. possibly the most heteronormative novel i've read in years, despite its heavy weirdness. i also had a hard time with the narrative voice, which is humorless and very self-serious.

i know a ton of people love this book -- interested to hear responses. i wonder if this is one of those books/experiences i will appreciate more with distance? i'll report back.

whats_margaret_reading's review against another edition

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Back when watching a monster movie on a Sunday afternoon after the homework was done was an achievable luxury (so YEARS ago), I came across Prophecy, a gem from 1979. Here is some classy monster movie poster art:

A movie poster

So a scientist hired by the EPA goes out to the Androscoggin River in Maine to figure out if a paper mill or something is going to poison everyone with mercury. An astute viewer might be able to conclude, why yes. Instead of the usual, mutant bears attack!

ew, mutant bear

To top it off, the EPA scientist brings his wife along. She eats the fish with mercury in it, and she's trying to find the right time to tell her husband that she is pregnant. Those warnings about pregnant women not eating fish from some lakes because of the high mercury content? Well, they both remember now. So, mutant bears and potentially mutant babies!

Why am I going down memory lane about a bad monster movie when reviewing In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods? There are some striking parallels. The woods, the bears, the challenges with pregnancy. Except, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is better. I mean, I do miss a good terrible mutant bear suit, but the old movie was scary because bears jump out and attacks things while looking gross. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is scary because it quickly goes from being transgressive and disgusting to something deeper and more universal.

A husband, a wife, and a cabin in the woods. This will not go well. How spectacularly wrong, though, comes from the unnamed husband's reactions to his wife's frustrations with conception. She constantly miscarries for no explicable reason, and the husband can do nothing to help and stands by as she self harms as a coping mechanism. Pregnancy after pregnancy fails, the husband's thoughts are relatable and seem to be no different than the same emotions a husband would go through not in some scary isolated woods.

There are fairy tale elements as well, from the role of the fingerling and foundling to the creatures in the forest that surrounds them. There are definitely some violent, Brothers-Grimm-type elements to this novel, making a compelling mix of psychological realism and fantastical occurrences. Layer upon layer of plot are put together to build a compelling novel that fills over 300 pages in a captivating way.

I would never have picked this up on my own, but the quality of writing and manipulation of traditional genre tropes makes In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods more than worth it.

(Also, I have no idea how that movie ends because I had to go off and do something else, and these were the days before useful ways of recording TV programs. Good thing I can find out now on the Internet!)

sdebner's review against another edition

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This is easily the strangest book I've read in a long time. It's like a really intense fairy tale, but one of the grimmer Brothers Grimm. There is death and resurrection; parenthood, both real and imagined; what it is to grow older and change with a spouse; and creatures that change form, are reanimated, and/or in no way should still be walking around in the shape they are in. There is a fierce mama bear; a squid with a grudge; a miscarried fetus that becomes a cancer; and so many different mis-en-abimes that I lost count. Definitely compelling, but not for everyone.

lmatakas's review against another edition

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Review will be posted on the TEDxPSU Blog on Monday ( BUT some brief thoughts:

1. I feel like this would have been the best book in the whole world to listen to.
2. I couldn't put it in one category-that is, I couldn't pigeonhole it in genre, style, time, anything. And while that was frustrating, it was also completely fascinating.
3. It's both not a book I would recommend to everyone, but it's a book that I'd recommend widely. It's very literary, but not plot driven, which can be frustrating but those who read it will find that it's worth it...difficult group of people to recommend to, but it can be done.

arationalvein's review against another edition

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Starting out, I felt distant from the narrative, but as I read and warmed up to the poetic writing style I became invested in these strange goings-on.

ptfishhh's review against another edition

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Audiobook. Not a fan of the narrator. Also the book would have been better as a shorter story. It seemed like a lot of books to riff on a theme. 4 stars because it is well written and others will certainly like it. Just not my thing. I love his writing. Haunting and he is just a great writer.

howwoolatthemoon's review against another edition

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Oh no no no no no this is not an author I should ever read again. The other book I tried by him had many mentions, many strong hints (but no outright description of the events) of child sexual assault, with no warning in the book description or in anyone's reviews. I said I'd like to give him another chance, and here we are. In the opening scene the wife has a miscarriage and the husband eats it. And then lies to her about it, saying he had a ceremony and floated it down the river or whatever. This is not a spoiler because it's literally the first thing that happens in the book. That's disgusting, and a violation, and not what I want to read about. It's over, Matt Bell. No more second chances. You blew it, buddy.

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atschakfoert's review against another edition

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This was a bit too depressing even for me. When a book starts out with a man eating his wife's miscarried fetus, there's really nowhere to go but down. Not what I was expecting at all.

charlesmrose's review against another edition

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I liked this just fine, but I would have liked it a lot more if it had been 100 to 200 pages shorter. Could've been a novella, honestly. The best parts are pretty front loaded and the second half read a lot like the author just didn't know how to end it, or didn't want it to end, so it just kept going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And going. The fairytale/fable style just doesn't hold up for that long. 

alexanderp's review against another edition

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challenging dark mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? N/A
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I don't come across many books that absolutely stump me, but this one near did. 

The prose is beautiful and Bell has a clear talent, but this book is a headscratcher.