Matt Bell - In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (3 stars)

Like its title, Bell's dark fable is beautifully written but a bit too long

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

(Soho Press)

Much like its title, Matt Bell’s debut novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is beautifully written but a bit too long.

Bell successfully turns a tale of marriage in crisis into a dark fable, set in the mythical realm of the dirt, where an unnamed narrator and his wife set up home and try to start a family. At novel-length, however, the concept feels overstretched, and the biblical-style prose, although spot-on for the most part, eventually becomes exhausting.

That said, when it’s good, it’s very good indeed. There are breathtaking, visceral scenes as the man battles the bear that guards the woods, or cowers in his boat as fragments of an exploding moon crash into the lake all around him. The characters are drawn with just enough depth to keep the reader engaged, and moments such as the man’s discovery of his wife’s buried memories are genuinely moving. For all its flaws, this is a unique and sometimes extraordinary fairytale, and well worth a read.

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