In this mythical debut novel, newlyweds escape the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost uninhabited lakeshore, where they plan to raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world. Winner of the 2013 Paula Anderson Best Book Award.
[Love is] a notoriously difficult subject for writers, though god knows it hasn't stopped them from trying, with very mixed results. It's rare that somebody gets it right, which is why Matt Bell's debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, is so remarkable. It's one of the most thoughtful recent works of fiction on a subject that defeats many writers before they pick up their pens ... It's hard to imagine a book more difficult to pull off, but Bell proves as self-assured as he is audacious. His prose, which manages to be both mournful and propulsive, is undeniable. While he's been compared to authors like Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, his style is very much his own, lacking any obvious antecedent. In the House contains passages far scarier than most mainstream horror novels, but Bell writes with a warmth, a humanity that renders the scenes gut-wrenching on an emotional level. Characters in fairy tales are often stand-ins for ideas, props used to illustrate a moral. Bell does a superb job of avoiding this trap, though; he writes about the family with both a clear sense of empathy and an expert novelist's unblinking eye.Bell's novel isn't just a joy to read, it's also one of the smartest meditations on the subjects of love, family and marriage in recent years.
It’s hard to describe how strange and powerful Matt Bell’s first novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, is. It is a boldly experimental work, opening up previously untapped territory for contemporary fiction ... It centers on recognizable characters: a young married couple, struggling to make a new life together. Yet it also features a talking bear and a mythical squid, a quest through an underground labyrinth and songs that can call the stars out of the sky ... The book, filled with internal rhymes and heavy alliteration, begs to be read aloud. It’s a driving, oral epic that reads like poetry ... Bell has set himself a difficult task, and not everything works. Sometimes what he wants to be bizarrely powerful is just bizarre. At other times, the novel’s hypermasculine tone grates. But these flaws are the necessary price of Bell’s ambitions. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is an extraordinary achievement, telling a most ancient story in a way that feels uncannily new.
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 ... You can certainly compare this dense, powerful, and heartbreaking novel to other fabulists, such as Kafka, Calvino, and Borges, but Matt Bell’s writing also owes a debt of gratitude to Cormac McCarthy, Kelly Link, Benjamin Percy, and Aimee Bender. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods can only really be compared and assigned to one voice—Matt Bell’s—which is unique, innovative, captivating, and hypnotic in a way that only he can make it. This is a book that will be talked about, dissected, and shared for years to come because it is not only his story, it is our story—every single one of us.