Wednesday, May 1, 2013

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
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.

It’s hard to write a review for this kind of genre-bending book. It is such a detailed, nuanced novel, so wholly original, that it is tough to put into words what exactly makes it work. Because it does work.

I suppose it’s the writing. The lush, wandering narrative takes the reader on almost an underwater journey. Our senses are diffused by the fable-like story until we are just a little intoxicated by the descriptions. We never find out where it takes place, we don’t know the protagonists names, but it makes no difference. We are wholly immersed in this strange world the author creates.

The use of the animal symbolism throughout the entire novel gives it even more depth. The squid, the bear, they all become leitmotifs, giving us hints and guiding us along. Some parts read like a fairytale while others like a horror story. The book is a bit of both, but mainly a beautiful reflection on what having children and what being married means.

Not everyone will like this book. It’s not something you can just skim over and enjoy. This is a book that requires the reader’s full attention and one that deserves to be analyzed and internalized. If you love literary fiction and wonderful poetic writing, then I highly recommend this one.

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