Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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


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


      According to the book blurb, this is a story of what happens when a man and his wife desire a child, but one is not forthcoming. It is supposedly about love and parenthood and loss and dreams.

      A man and wife move to a lakeshore far away from civilization. They make most everything by hand and attempt to build a family. Each attempt is failed and the man actually eats the first stillborn baby in the first chapter. This son continues to exist inside the man and talks with him frequently and tries to take over his body at some points. There is a terrifying, rotting-alive bear in the woods which nightly resurrects the animals the man traps and kills. There is a ghost squid that lives in the lake. It used to be married to the zombie bear and it also gives the man the power to transform into a squid when in the lake. The wife can sing things into existence and pull the stars down from the sky with her voice. She takes the zombie bear’s cub and sings it into a human child, an act that causes friction between the couple. The house also seems alive, producing a seemingly infinite number of rooms that the wife populates, using her songs, with memories, scenes, objects, and emotions.

      I will admit that this book does allow me to use the phrases “zombie bear” and “ghost squid” which are two phrases that I never expected to use in a discussion of a literary fiction novel. This aside, a detailed summation of the plot reads more like some sort of mad-libs exercise that the plot of the novel. Stylistically, Bell does some very unique and interesting things with the story. Had they been located within a short or even a novella, it might have worked or at least been less tiresome. Yet, the frequency that these devices and phrases are used over the course of 300+ pages; one begins to tire of seeing “upon the dirt”.

      Truly in a shorter format, I would find Bell’s style, and possible even this story, to be interesting, unique, and engaging. Despite my reservations, I will look for Bell’s work in the future to see if he is has fully adapted his style to the novel format.

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