In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods

Soho, dist. by Random House. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781616952532. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616952532. F
OrangeReviewStarHere Bell (creative writing, Northern Michigan Univ.; How They Were Found) puts the fable in fabulism. This spare, devastating novel peels back layers of geography, modernity, and even proper nouns. Its characters—husband and wife, fingerling and foundling, bear and squid—share in their universality something with the woodsmen and witches and stepchildren of fairy tales past. This story follows a husband and wife as they arrive, freshly married, in a wilderness and try to start a family. The wife is endowed with great powers of creation; she can sing objects, and even whole worlds, into being. When their attempts to conceive result in miscarriage, she resorts to other means to provide their family with offspring, while her husband is haunted by the ghost of their unborn son. Their grief divides them, and they must separately grapple with the bear who rules their woods and the squid who dwells in their lake, with labyrinths of memory, and with the anger of children both injured and unrecalled.
VERDICT Bell's story is as beautiful as it is ruinous. A tragedy of fantastic proportions, the book's musical, often idiosyncratic prose will carry its readers into an unfamiliar but unforgettable world. [For more on Bell and this title, see the Editors' Picks feature on page 34 and a Q&A with the author on page 96.—Ed.]
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