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Safe as Houses

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  365 ratings  ·  69 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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4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  365 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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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 prized monument
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.
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.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories, here, y2015
best short stories i've read in ages.
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.
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.
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.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
the best thing I've read in a very very long time
Julie Ehlers
Beautiful. Funny and quirky and clear-eyed and hopeful.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When they're good they're very very good. A few are kind of eh - but when is that not true for a story collection?
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Book Bingo 2017 - Collection of short stories
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first two stories are amazing
Jason Arias
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing writing!
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.”
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
A few of the stories were great! But most. Not so much.
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Each story provides an entrancing telling of how things in life, whether big or small, can shape ones life, their priorities, and of course, their sense of belonging.
Full Stop
Jun 11, 2014 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.
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Ted Dodson
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
I would call this book mildly diverting. At 126 pages, it's a quick read so there are certainly worse ways to spend your time but I don't think it was... enough of anything. Short stories are generally not my format of choice but I've still read of enough of them to be able to sort the good ones from the bad ones. These stories just fall flat. They are not compelling and emotionally affecting. They are not insightful and clever. And they are not that entertaining. So they end up accomplishing li ...more
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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
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“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
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