— Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife's beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.
This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.
ABA Indie Next Pick
Flavorwire Staff Pick/Top 10 Debut of 2013
The Nervous Breakdown Book Club Selection
Praise for In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
“Mr. Bell has written a gripping, grisly tale of a husband’s descent into and ultimate emergence from some kind of personal hell.”
—The New York Times
“It's hard to imagine a book more difficult to pull off, but Bell proves as self-assured as he is audacious.... 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.... the novel is a monument to the uniqueness of every relationship, the possibility that love itself can make the world better, though of course it's never easy.”
"Somber, incantatory sentences to hold you within [Bell's] dreamlike creation.... This unique book leaves you with the haunting lesson that even if you renounce and cast away your loved ones, you can never disown the memory of your deeds."
—The Wall Street Journal
"A blood-soaked fable... With this debut novel, Matt Bell [reworks] myths, rituals and fictions into something that can hold his visceral, primal vision. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods provides us with a new, unstable literary element, something scavenged from the old, something bright and wet and vital.”
—The Globe and Mail
“For readers weary of literary fiction that dutifully obeys the laws of nature, here’s a story that stirs the Brothers Grimm and Salvador Dali with its claws.... as gorgeous as it is devastating.”
—The Washington Post
“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."
—The Boston Globe
"A big, slinking, dangerous fairy tale, the kind with gleaming fangs and blood around the muzzle and a powerful heart you can hear thumping from miles away. The story's ferocity is matched by Matt Bell's glorious sentences: sinuous and darkly magical, they are taproots of the strange."
—Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of Arcadia
"This is a fiercely original book—at once intimate and epic, visceral and philosophical—that sent me scurrying for adjectives, for precedents, for cover. Matt Bell commands the page with bold, vigorous prose and may well have invented the pulse-pounding novel of ideas."
—Jess Walter, National Book Award Finalist and author of Beautiful Ruins and We Live In Water
"Will haunt you long after you’ve read it, Bell’s novel mixes myth with a spooky, unsettling tone best described as “Midwestern Borges”.... something few writers, debut or otherwise, could so perfectly render."
—Jason Diamond, Flavorwire Literary Editor
"There is a power here that is almost overwhelming. The force of the writing is derived from something elemental and primal. Unlike anything I have read in a long time."—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
"In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is a terrifying and wonderful fable."
—Flavorwire (STAFF PICK)
“I can’t decide which is more impressive: Bell’s boundless imagination or the spare-yet-lyrical, simply lovely way that he has woven words together to express it. Prepare to be mesmerized.”
"Bell cracks us in the mind's eye, drops us in inky waters, leaves us dripping with love potions and scarred from our innermost animal natures…. In the tradition of Calvino, Borges, and Kafka, this is a mystic's tale—the gods here are most definitely crazy."
“In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods reads like a fairy tale with the emotion and psychology of a contemporary novel.... [Bell keeps] his readers awake night after night. But it’s ok, because when you’re wrapped up in a Matt Bell story, you don’t want to sleep anyway.”
“In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is dreamlike and fairy-tale-like and fable-like. But like dreams and fairy tales and fables, there is something recognizable and real at its heart.”
—Fiction Writers Review
“It was heartbreaking and strange and sonorous, like being sung to sleep by something with far too many teeth.”
—Landon Mitchell, McNally Jackson Books
“In [the man and wife’s] opposition lies the heart of where all love falters—when wills clash and communication ceases. It’s as true in the magical house as it is in every other dwelling. We just don’t have mythical bear-children.”
“Centuries of storytelling have left us with the typical fabulist female used as a device to define the male characters in the story, with no real definition of her own. In this novel... the tension hangs on what she desires.... pulsing and glittering at the bottom of all that misery is a quiet kind of hope in the love that is buried and unearthed between the protagonist and his wife, a love that leads the reader back to the dirt, back to the woods and lake, and, in the end, lets us all rest if not comfortably—for that is absent here—at least peacefully.”
"Hallucinatorily original mythic story-telling for grown-ups."
—Drawn and Quarterly Bookstore
“Mystic and vivid...”
—Central Michigan Life
Praise for Matt Bell
"Gorgeous, brilliant, often darkly hilarious and always moving.... Written with an ingenuity and joy that call to mind Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities."
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
"No less original or thought-provoking than contemporary fabulist stalwarts like Aimee Bender or Etgar Keret, [he] expands the scope of experimental writing."
—Fiction Writers Review
"Matt Bell can do what so many fiction writers can't: Matt Bell can make anything happen."
—Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray
"Matt Bell has built a national reputation on his own terms, completely outside the support system of New York publishing, on the strength of his stories and novellas, which are wholly original and singularly his own."
"A compelling portrait both of the way a heated mind can come to recreate the world and of how fascination with such a mind can end up being its own sort of trap. A wonderful, obsessive novella."
—Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain
"His wild manipulation of form and genre makes the bulk of contemporary fiction feel bloodless and inert in comparison."
—Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times
"Bell brings us everything: symbolism, futurism à la David Ohle, devastation, surrealism, scenic energy, fractured fairytales, consumption, struggle, claustrophobia, and family decay... [But] Bell knows how to keep his world in check, his every word balanced against another, delicately, like a system of weights."