Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Safe as Houses” as Want to Read:
Safe as Houses
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Safe as Houses

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  445 ratings  ·  82 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
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Safe as Houses, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Safe as Houses

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  445 ratings  ·  82 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Safe as Houses
lucky little cat
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of the Cat's Pajamas, poetry-lovers, anyone who's just had a breakup, Amy Hempel fans
From the author of the delightful novel 2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas, this is another of those lyrical story collections written by a poet-turned-

Looking for a few Good Boys
fabulous-fictioneer. And I mean that purely as a compliment.

How else to explain the story where a young woman's old college flame announces his presence by sending a flock of hummingbirds to dive-bomb her obnoxious new husband? The story of R.E.M.-loving rebels stuck attending Vanilla University, where the prize
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the inviolability of the home as an individual's place of shelter and refuge. I know this because I looked it up. But also because, well, it’s common sense. From a physical perspective, the purpose of a home – whether it be a tangible structure such as a house, or apartment, or a yurt, etc etc – is to provide protection, comfort.

Be that as it may, we all know home represents more than just the structure we live within. Ye
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Clea M
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Will Ejzak
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm very grateful to have discovered Marie-Helene Bertino this year. The best of these stories are insanely charming and sweet. (The best stories, btw: "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph," "Great, Wondrous," "Free Ham," and "Safe as Houses," in that order. My life would be noticeably worse if I hadn't read these stories.) Bertino has a soft spot for heartwarming "aww" moments and downtrodden protagonists with hearts of gold--which could be annoying, but she's also a really funny and excitin ...more
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: y2015, short-stories, here
best short stories i've read in ages. ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 j
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
YES to every single one of these stories, yes for simultaneously making me feel wildly lost and holding me in a warm embrace as I reached the end. Stories that each made their own unique little mark on my heart and which I'm already looking forward to revisiting one day. ...more
Katie Devine
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Quirky, inventive, utterly unique and delightful debut collection.
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Both imaginative and grounded. "Great, Wondrous" and "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph" are two of the best stories I've read in recent memory. I will probably recommend this to everyone all the time forever. ...more
Rebecca Holland
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
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.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2013
Worth reading for the story "Great, Wondrous" alone -- though the collection as a whole is quite good, and the final page of the last story pretty much crushed me. ...more
Julie Ehlers
Beautiful. Funny and quirky and clear-eyed and hopeful.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
the best thing I've read in a very very long time ...more
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I was absolutely delighted by this collection, but the final three stories are real standouts. Great, Wondrous and Carry Me Home... were stunning.
Dec 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Bertino's debut novel, 2AM at the Cat's Pajamas, was a favorite the year I read it. I pretty speedily hunted down Safe as Houses, her previous short story collection, just to get more of her voice. It took a while to get back around to it. Something about feeling like there should be distance between an author's work? Wanting to not overdose on a voice? Hard to say. Point is, three years later, I finally cracked open the short story collection.

These stories show what a difference time can make,
Cynthia Robinson
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
I liked it. Sometimes I loved it. And sometimes it annoyed me--mostly when it was trying what felt like too hard to be sparkly. But then sparkly I most certainly am not, so this is likely a personality thing. And very often, right after an annoying sparkly moment came an I-love-this-story moment, so credit where it is due! The stories sow the seeds for the style for which MHB is now fairly well known, and those connections are always interesting to observe. They were unquestionably written by so ...more
Apr 16, 2020 rated it liked it
I had a hard time with this collection of short stories. While I love the authors style of writing, I actually hated most of the stories. The back of the book describes the different characters as “struggling to reconcile their circumstances with some kind of American ideal and failing, over and over.” But the characters aren’t struggling at all, the have zero agency - bad things just seem to happen to them and they barely seem to care. It’s incredibly depressing. Of the five stories with these ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read 2AM in the Cats Pajamas years ago, and have since bought it for so many of my friends. I finally went back and read her short stories... wow. Marine-Helene Bertino is one of my favorite authors, and I cannot wait for her to publish more.

Bertino is one of the authors I love because she writes the way I someday hope to write. Her narratives are compelling, detailed, and often dark. She pulls you immediately into a world where you feel gripped by her characters and haunted by her imagery. Th
the beauty of this collection is that bertino is so literal about her stories. have a sob story? you can sell that. feeling so vastly different from the people around you that you aren’t quite sure how to connect? you’re alienated, because you’re an alien. and there is something so wonderful about being able to feel the effect that is planted in each story, to watch it grow roots and sprout into something surprising and perfect. each ending feels a little like waking from a dream.

standout storie
Tyler Barton
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Snappy, smart, laugh-out-loud lines. Characters whose voices crackle. Stories grounded in humor and never without emotional resonance.

I loved the first two stories and the last few stories. In the middle the work was a less tight and concept/premise heavy. Best when the stories are believably ridiculous, but at times the book jumps the shark a bit. "Free Ham" is one of the best stories I've read in the last year. "Sometimes You Break...", "Safe as Houses" , "Carry Me Home..." are the best stori
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
It took a while for me to warm up to these short stories but by the time I finished the book I was in bits. Each story starts out to tell you about something on the surface but then becomes a conduit through the very human tales of love, depression, heartbreak, desire to live. I loved "Great, Wondrous" but the last story "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph" is one I will be thinking about a lot. ...more
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Charming, magical stories - although they don't hold quite the same potency as Bertino's spectacular debut novel 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas. Still, they're good over a period of time (longer, frankly, than I read them would be advisable) and they remind me of how excited I am to see what Bertino does next. ...more
Camille24 (camilleisreading)
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
Absolutely obsessed with this collection. This is one of my favorite books of 2017. These stories made me feel some type of way. And that way is: moved, enthralled, heartbroken, elated, and wanting more!!!

My favorites:

"The Idea of Marcel" : A woman has dinner with her Idea of her ex-boyfriend Marcel. Not with real Marcel, but with her idea of him -- a version of the man without all the annoying quirks and with a lot more interest in her feelings than in himself. Then the story gets totally Kafka
Taylor Leatrice Werner
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I Love Marie-Helene Bertino. These stories are so hilarious, with absurd elements that somehow stand in for heavy, emotional stuff. So the actual story is on the periphery of what you're reading. And it's beautiful. I can't wait to read 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas. ...more
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
Oh I really loved this :) such fun incentive writing.
The Idea of Marcel; Great, Wondrous; and Carey me Home, Sisters of St Joseph were my faves
Same author as Parakeet! (Great, wondrous had ma cual realism with birds too, interestingly)
Book Bingo 2017 - Collection of short stories
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Wonderful and weird and quirky and surreal. Beautiful language that surprises you at every turn. Favorites: “The Idea of Marcel,” “Great, Wondrous,” and “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph.”
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first two stories are amazing
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Milk Blood Heat
  • What Are You Going Through
  • Leave the World Behind
  • To Be a Man
  • Last Things
  • I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
  • The Prophets
  • Like Life
  • Milk Fed
  • Break It Down
  • A Day in the Life
  • How to Pronounce Knife
  • The Great Indoors
  • Utopia Avenue
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno
  • The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010
  • Business Law: The Ethical, Global, and E-Commerce Environment
See similar books…
Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of the novel 2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS and the story collection SAFE AS HOUSES, and was the 2017 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Fellow in Cork, Ireland. Her work has received The O. Henry Prize, The Pushcart Prize, The Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Mississippi Review Story Prize, and has twice been featured on NPR's Selected Shorts. She teaches at NYU ...more

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
28 likes · 6 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Seeing his face after months was as immediate as a pointed gun.” 12 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.” 8 likes
More quotes…