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Safe as Houses

4.34 of 5 stars 4.34  ·  rating details  ·  173 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Safe as Houses, the debut story collection of Marie-Helene Bertino, proves that not all homes are shelters. The titular story revolves around an aging English professor who, mourning the loss of his wife, robs other people's homes of their sentimental knick-knacks. In "Free Ham," a young dropout wins a ham after her house burns down and refuses to accept it. “Has my ham do ...more
Paperback, 164 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by University Of Iowa Press
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This book is a prime example of why I love short stories--they are bizarre, funny, and devastating. You can't get them out of your head for days after reading them. Highly recommended.
Rebecca Holland
Looking through the catalog online at, the photo of Marie-Helene Bertino's 'Safe as Houses,' caught my attention right away. Abstract in a way, and with bold, yet normal font, 'Safe as Houses,' is anything but plain or normal.

Bertino takes life situations, everyday life situations that we might overlook, and even more, might just push aside, and punches them up, glitters them and the end result are a pack of stories that bring a smile to your face, a giggle to your mind and at
How is it that only a handful of people have this book on their shelves?

I’d read a favourable review online, was intrigued, and gave this one a chance- I’m so happy that I did. Darkly comedic, sad in places, hopeful in others, whimsical in some: a door to door salesman selling the will to live, a failed commercial writer trying to quit a man like one would quit cigarettes, Bob Dylan comes to dinner. Some houses are safe and some are not and some are just houses.

Brilliant for a debut collection
Full Stop
Jun 11, 2014 Full Stop added it
Shelves: fall-2012

Review by Ben Jahn

Marie-Helene Bertino’s Iowa Short Fiction Award-winning story collection, Safe as Houses, offers, among many pleasures, the readerly pleasure of allusions both cultural and literary. This type of pleasure can be dangerous, because it comes freighted with the potential for self-congratulation; it threatens to insulate the audience along with the author. But allusions, in good hands, send us forward, not back into something we already know.
My review is at the following link:

This book was amazing and the stories are brilliant. Read READ READ!!!! There are also links online to some of the stories so that you can test them out before you buy the book.
Julie Ehlers
Beautiful. Funny and quirky and clear-eyed and hopeful.
If I had to describe this short story collection in one word, it would be "absurd." There are so many wonderful examples of absurdity in this book, from the hilarious to the mundane to the supernatural. I love the ways that Bertino challenges the conventions of the short story. This was an entertaining, whimsical and engaging collection, and no story is like another, making Bertino's range and experimental abilities particularly admirable. The reason it gets 3 stars instead of more is that the o ...more
Originally posted on my blog, A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall:

Safe as Houses is an eclectic collection of short stories, bordering on the wildly strange and fantastical while remaining down-to-earth. That sounds crazy, I know! Yet Bertino somehow manages to make her readers feel her stories are based in reality, even with passages such as: "The name of the planet I'm from does not have an English equivalent. Roughly, it sounds like a cricket hopping onto a plate of rice. I am here to take notes o
Book: Safe as Houses

Author:Marie-Helene Bertino

Published:October 2012 by University of Iowa Press, 164 pages

First Line:"Growing up, I have dreams that my father sets our house on fire."

Genre/Rating:Short stories; 5/5 little boys lugubriously printing the names of his classmates on their valentines, only to be sent to the office for misbehaviour and miss the entire celebration

Recommended if you like:Amy Hempel, Kelly Link, magic realism, female heroines who are just a little lost, prose so juicil
Ted Dodson
It's not that this book is just well written (it is, extraordinarily), walks a tight line between comedy and tragedy (it does to a beautiful and profound extent), or has an consistently fresh bent on reality (the rules of which are, in fact, very much bent in this collection), but this book is magical. It is a rare, rare book that has this sort of magic, though its effect is simple. It makes you want to read more. It makes you want to read the stories in this book again, it makes you want to rea ...more
Sean Carman
I loved, loved, loved this collection of quirky stories with a strong voice that keep just the right emotional distance from their subjects. "North Of," the story of a young woman who brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving, is an instant classic of contemporary short fiction. Marie-Helene Bertino is a genius.

Also, for those of us who lovingly devote our time to writing failed short stories (this is how I start my day!), her podcast interview at the University of Pennsylvania MFA program, about h
The first few stories weren't that good, but the last few had moments that made me well up with tears at the smallest details of her character's fragility.

"I think when we die, Jesus or Peter ow whoever will wheel in a VCR like they did in grade school to show whatever we want from our life. We can rewind, fast-forward, watch the good parts over and over. LIfe is shit mostly, but everyone has moments. Even me. Times when the clouds part and I am able to summon up a little hero."

And this one was
Howard Parsons
Fantastic - and I mean that literally and colloquially.
Sarah Ellen Rogers
I met Marie-Helene at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and I was so impressed by her reading and her cogent responses to questions that I bought her book immediately after her panel. Her prose is so, so clean, and I love how adeptly she incorporates speculative elements into her fiction. I like to think that fantasy explodes the potential of the past, sci-fi of the future, and speculative fiction of the present, which is why it has my allegiance as a reader and a writer. Marie-Helene's book is one th ...more
great short stories. 4.5
Al Kratz
Awesome short story collection.
Fred Pelzer
These are bold stories whose premise and story will last with you. I had previously read "North Of" in Electric Lit's recommended reading without realizing that it was a part of this collection and so it was a wonderful surprise to find it here, like accidentally running into an old friend. That story and "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph," the collection closer, were easily my two favorite stories of a very well done set.
Rachel Kowal
4.5 stars

You know, it's been a while since I've finished a collection of short stories. Chalk it up to a shrinking attention span, general business, disinterest... whatever. Safe as Houses is charming, hilarious, insightful, and fresh. Bertino has a way of circling back on certain themes or riffs in an amusing way, so that it feels like you are part of some an inside joke. Shrewd, absurd, and true.
R.E.M. was my favorite band for a long time. I haven't listened to them in a while, but this book of stories made me think about Stipe and crew, and not just because the band gets a shout-out or two. Like R.E.M., Bertino is equally capable of making you laugh and cry, of bringing to light the sacred and the profane. There's a remarkable range of work here, and all of it is very very good.
This collection of short stories is filthy with compressed understated moments of magic. There's a spare quality to Bertino's prose that reminds me of Raymond Carver, but Carver's imagined universe was never quite this askew, nor was his heart quite as warm as Bertino's, in my opinion. Not since Arthur Bradford's "Dogwalker" has a collection of short stories delighted me as much as this one.
Rachel M
Weird and delightful.
Liana Giorgi
The balance between prose and dialogue is masterfully crafted throughout—and then, suddenly, out of the blue, yet perfectly fitting, comes a piece of wisdom, packed in a few sentences or just some words, and the Aha! moment that follows is cathartic, sad, and funny all at the same time. Read more at NYJB
David Jordan
Bertino’s short-story collection collection is inconsistent, but when it is good it is very, very good. Three stories -- “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph,” “Safe as Houses” and “Free Ham” -- are penetrating, touching and often quirkily funny. The five others, unfortunately, lean too far toward cryptic experimentalism.
Clea M
Jan 07, 2013 Clea M rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
The last story made me tear up and made me want to go live in a convent with a bunch of nuns. I don't know how it did that. Each one of these is a little bleak, a lot funny, and pulled at my heart in different ways. Several of them are about depression. I almost never love short stories the way I loved these.
Michaela Raschilla
There were a few of these short stories that I really loved and the rest only got like-like ... They were funny and witty and touching. Although I did notice a few phrases or lines that were repeated they served different roles ... It was good and a quick read so you should try it too!
Sometimes You Break Their Hearts, Sometimes You Break Theirs and Safe as Houses were two of the most enjoyable for me. Also liked Free Ham and Great, Wondrous. But Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph was by far my favorite story in the book. Glad it ended on that one.
Steve Williams
lorrie moore's wit meets haruki murakami's surrealism. totally fresh. i mean, there's a story about a girl who brings bob dylan home for thanksgiving. so, yeah. favorite book of 2012? favorite book of 2012.
Surprising, compassionate, funny, and energetically imagined, one of the best story collections I've read in ages. Think red velvet cupcakes and Regina Spektor and Grimm's Fairy Tales.
A beautiful book, each story a little gem. Just like Marie, one of the most generous people I've had the pleasure of knowing. I can't wait to see what else she has in store.
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Marie-Helene Bertino's debut novel 2 AM AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS will be published by Crown in August, 2014. Her collection of short stories SAFE AS HOUSES received The 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award and the Pushcart Prize and was long-listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award and The Story Prize. She hails from Philadelphia and lives in Brooklyn. She was an Emerging Writer Fellow at NYC's Center ...more
More about Marie-Helene Bertino...
2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas North Of (Electric Literature's Recommended Reading) 2 heures du matin à Richmond Street

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“Seeing his face after months was as immediate as a pointed gun.” 11 likes
“Once in a while, I smell Clive on my skin and it stops my day. It's a train crossing; I wait to pass. Eventually the lights stop flashing, the barriers lift. I keep moving.” 6 likes
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