Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nightmare on Dirt Street 'In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods' by Matt Bell Is a Mesmerizing Literary Horror Story

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nightmare on Dirt Street 'In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods' by Matt Bell Is a Mesmerizing Literary Horror Story

Article excerpt

"IN THE HOUSE UPON THE DIRT BETWEEN THE LAKE AND THE WOODS "

By Matt Bell.

Soho Press ($25).

Vegetarians will not like this book. PETA members, cat ladies, animal lovers in general aren't likely to enjoy it either. But there are many who will appreciate this first novel by 32-year-old Matt Bell, who has received acclaim for his short fiction.

"In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods" is a powerful work of art but it's also a horror story, a 312-page nightmare as repulsive as it is brilliant. Written in six parts and a coda, the story begins in the place of the title -- in the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods -- and here it stays for the entire novel.

To this desolate setting have come a man and his wife. No names or time period are given but we learn that they came from a land with "cities, tall buildings, crammed streets."

The couple was recently married and has brought with them their wedding presents, such as platters and crystal, "the many objects we had been gifted." Maintaining this type of oddly formal phrasing is one of the Mr. Bell's better accomplishments.

The tone never lets up. His sentences, some almost half a page long, have an almost chanting rhythm that can put the reader in a trance-like state. The tale is told in the first person, from the man's point of view, with almost no dialogue.

From the beginning we feel poetically punched in the gut by his despair. After the wife has a miscarriage, a creature called the fingerling inhabits the man's body. Sometimes it speaks -- in all capital letters -- but mostly the man observes the fingerling's loathsome effects on him.

The man goes into the woods and begins killing animals, not for food but because of the terrible anger he feels over losing his son. Mr. Bell's graphic descriptions make us see the carnage and feel the pain. …

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