A review by emdawgb
How They Were Found, by Matt Bell


Matt Bell's short story collection, How They Were Found, is dark, disturbing, creative, experimental and imaginative. Some of them will make a reader feel highly uncomfortable, which only stands as a testament to the power of the writing.

Despite being slightly unimpressed with the first story in this collection, The Cartographer's Girl,* I found the rest of the stories far more enjoyable. The stories that stand out for me as being worth re-reading are The Receiving Tower, His Last Great Gift, Hold On To Your Vacuum, The Leftover, and The Collectors.

In The Receiving Tower, a group of men who are not quite sure where they are or what they're doing there gather once a week in the basement of the tower in which they live, desperate to share their memories before their minds grow inexplicably dim.

Hold On To Your Vacuum is a terrifying mix of school and video game, in which the narrator is pursued through his own memories by a mysterious man known only as Teacher, who pushes a drill bit into his skull to reset the level each time.

The Leftover is probably the most light-hearted story of the collection. Following an uneventful but devastating break-up with Jeff, Allison wakes up to find a miniature version of him in her apartment. She conducts a tentative relationship with Little Jeff as he grows smaller and more childlike, until she is left with no other option than to confront the real Jeff.

The Collectors is a fictionalised account of the real-life story of Homer and Langley Collyer, whose compulsive hoarding directly led to their lonely deaths. Bell tells their story with a strong sense of tact and respect, while still invoking the tragedy and desperation of the situation.

Bell's stories don't have morals or happy endings, and his characters are not offered a neat parcel of redemption at the end of each tale. The meaning of the stories isn't always immediately apparent, and may occur to you some time later when you're dwelling on the subject matter.

* I have since realised that in the print version of How They Were Found, The Cartographer's Girl is accompanied by symbols and annotations that do not appear when reading on the Kindle.