5 of 5 stars
I went into this book with high expectations, given how much I liked Bell’s prior collection, Cataclysm Baby, stories set in a universe familiar to In the House Upon the Dirt in Between the Lake and the Woods.
It met all of my expectations. Bell seems to have settled into the style he explored in Wolf Parts and polished in Cataclysm Baby. Sentences packed densely with symbolism and meaning, each word carefully hand-picked to suit. Paragraphs that echo each other, each one subtle and quiet on their own, but that rise to form, as one advance reviewer noted, the beat of “…a powerful heart you can hear thumping miles away.” Reading a story by this author is like boarding a locomotive and not knowing the destination. For a time, you quietly rumble along, wondering where it’ll take you. By the time you recognize the trunks of the murky, enchanted forest he’s drawn you to, the ride is irreversible and you have no choice but delve deep into the dark heart of the woods.
The prose is beautiful, as I said before, each word seems carefully hand-chosen to project the exact atmosphere and pathos of this unflinching alternate reality where there is nothing but the narrator and the elements he knows. For anyone who has had children or has struggled to have children, this novel is a fantastic metaphor for the experience of marriage and parentage. The loss of a child and the labyrinth it leads both mother and father down is pitch-perfect.
There’s little to not like about this book. You should know going in that this is dense literature. But, it toes the line expertly between accessible and the stuff studied and analyzed thoroughly in academia. It is a book to be read slowly, savored. One where if the territory feels strange, unfamiliar and unclear, it is to be enjoyed.