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In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,409 ratings  ·  348 reviews
In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at ...more
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published June 18th 2013 by Soho Press
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Average rating 3.32  · 
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 ·  1,409 ratings  ·  348 reviews

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Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
this book is beautiful and maddening. it is convoluted fabulism, sad and irrealy real.

the setting and the atmosphere are like a fairytale, like The Snow Child, but the truths it dissects: romantic relationships, parenthood, and regret, are real and dark dark dark.

if you don't have time to devote to it,though, don't bother. it's not a long book, so it's not like it is a real commitment you will have to be making, but i read this while in the middle of a million projects at work, and the language
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book as an ARC from Netgalley.

In In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell has crafted a disturbing extended fable, in which he explores themes around marriage and parenthood, creation and destruction, and memory and aging. In haunting prose that echoes the cadences of oral tales and creation myths, he tells the story of a nameless couple who leave their families and friends after marrying and create a home for themselves in a quiet land, with a lake on one
Scott Southard
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I recently reviewed this book for WKAR's Current State.You can listen to my review here:

You can also read my book review below.


Sometimes the literary world can suffer from a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

We all know this story made famous by Hans Christian Andersen, of the ridiculous Emperor tricked into wearing nothing and the underlings around him too afraid to point out that he is only in his underwear. In the mind of the Emperor he is adorned in
Feb 22, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While I can tell the writer is a tolerably good stylist, and I can even tell he has a vivid imagination for fiction, this book is really quite terrible. It's much too ambitious, pretentiously so, all too aware of its aspirations towards the creation of a myth and caught up in a kind of fantastical world, not of this time (or any time) or of this place (or any place). I think it's about the erosion of meaning of fatherhood, or possibly about how we are continually destroying our planet, but by ab ...more
The reviews are all over the place on this one, not surprising for such an irregular weave. I loved the darkness of it, the weirdness of it, but the writing style wore on me, the repetitiveness irritating. But then I would come across a passage like this - '. . . around it her silence continued speaking for years and years, the sound of her saying nothing.' Or a mention of a bowl made of mirrors - as you drink from it, it drinks of you.

It is a tale of yearning, loss and regret. And blood, lots
Renee Godding
Apr 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: magical-realism
"And even if she could not remember his face, she could remember his voice. How tonedeaf he was. How he spoke ceaselessly, because like most men he could not sing. And because he could not say anything without too many words"
- A rather ironic quote from the book...

Magical Realism tends to be a polarizing genre in itself, but when reviews are this divided, it’s bound to catch my attention. As an overall fan of this genre and all its metaphorical strangeness, I had fairly high hopes. Unfortuna
Richard  Thomas
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing

In Matt Bell’s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (Soho Press), we are lured into familiar territory—the world of fables and tall tales, where our expectations of the surreal, the grotesque, and the magical are fulfilled in ever-expanding layers. But beyond the illusions, beyond the world building, darkness, and the unknown is an allegory—a harsh yet beautiful lesson on what it means to be a man, a father, an
May 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This novel reminded me of rowing a boat out to the middle of the lake, the water calm and clear and devoid of people and engines, the only sounds heard are the gentle rocking of the boat, the casting of the line as it whistles through the air, and the reel being unwound and wound. Instead of beer, there’s wine in the cooler, a sombrero on my head to block out the sun’s harsh rays, and a woman in a pantsuit to my left with her head back and sunglasses plastered on her face that make her look like ...more
Chihoe Ho
Apr 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Like it's title, this novel ran on and on and on and on and on... It started with so much promise, full of intrigue and despair, but the style in which it was written in got the better of it. This mythical story would probably have worked better as a novella.

Matt Bell is a talented writer, however, his words become very indulgent and tedious to read after the initial discovery. It felt like the same idea repeated, just churned out in various embellished ways - almost as though Bell wrote a coupl
Blue Cypress Books
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Enjoyed the ride but have no idea what I just read. The novel is all about relationships, I think. There is the squid and the whale and the bear and the man and the wife and the child but it's all just so heavy with symbolic meaning that I need a therapist to explain it all to me. ...more
The latest installment from my Indiespensable subscription and I couldn’t wait to start!

A husband and wife move to the land between the lake and the woods to start their own life, across the lake from the city where they were raised. There they build their home and wish to build a family, but multiple failed pregnancies chips away at their hope, their marriage, and their sanity. That alone makes for an interesting concept for a book, but this one is wrapped in fable, a fairy tale, a fantasy worl
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Daddy Issues

“The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods” is a lovely extended poem about marriage and its vicissitudes especially after children come along. It’s told in a mythical fashion from the husband’s point of view. A young couple is living in isolation very close to the land, hunting and fishing for their own food, living in a cave while they make their own house. The husband ardently wants children and the wife is having trouble carrying pregnancies to full term. They both b
Michael Seidlinger
Matt Bell's debut novel builds up layer after surreal layer, creating a narrative that functions like one hell of a literary cake. Make sure to go in hungry because, by the time you've finished, you will have taken in enough ghost-like imagery to stretch your imagination to full-capacity.

And yet... that isn't enough.
You'll hunger for more, a second and third reread of the novel.

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is, quite simply, beautiful.

Amber Sparks
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, dark, violent, heart-rending, and real. Fable and fairy tale, yes, and after the authentic traditions of the best of these - full of transfiguration, suffering, and deep and troubled love. One of the best books from last year, or any year.
Back when watching a monster movie on a Sunday afternoon after the homework was done was an achievable luxury (so YEARS ago), I came across Prophecy, a gem from 1979. Here is some classy monster movie poster art:

A movie poster

So a scientist hired by the EPA goes out to the Androscoggin River in Maine to figure out if a paper mill or something is going to poison everyone with mercury. An astute viewer might be able to conclude, why yes. Instead of the usual, mutant bears attack!

ew, mutant bear

To top it off, the EPA scient
Ron Charles
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Praise from writers you’ve enjoyed might lure you into Matt Bell’s strange first novel, “In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.” Lauren Groff, who wrote “Arcadia,” one of The Washington Post’s top five novels for 2012, calls it “glorious.” Jess Walter, whose “Beautiful Ruins” is still on our bestseller list, suggests that Bell has “invented the pulse-pounding novel of ideas.” And here’s Karen Russell, fresh from “Swamplandia!,” comparing him to Italo Calvino.

Beware. A novel l
Apr 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
That was the question I worried at, that I gnawed at like a bone, a cast-off rib too stubborn to share its marrow. And when at last that bone broke, what truth escaped its fracture, was by it remade: for even our bones had memories, and our memories bones.

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is a strange and twisted narrative; a lost Brothers Grimm from the pre-sanitised days of a medieval Black Forest; a time when it was perfectly reasonable to tell tucked-in children
Ruby  Tombstone Lives!
In the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods, a young wife, (who incidentally has the power to sing objects into existence), miscarries her first child. Her husband ingests the foetus, which is hell-bent on securing for itself both a body and a mother. Thus begins an all-out war between the elements of the couple's tiny private world: dirt, house, lake, woods, father, mother, ghost, moon(s), darkness. You can throw in fingerling (foetus), foundling (human/bar hybrid), rampaging-deca ...more
Kathy Cowie
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
I am torn about this book. In the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to get through it. The language seemed too calculated; trying so hard for greatness when interesting would have been enough. Once I got into it, I found much of it beautifully written, even lyrical. But there were inconsistencies that I hope, given it was a proof, will be corrected. Sometimes, though I did think it was beautifully written, it went dangerously close to being pretentious. I became engrossed in this mythical wo ...more
Dottie B
Sep 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
Is this a Keanu Reeves movie? Lol! You know he played Johnny Utah in a little movie called Point Break. And graduated from a little university in that movie called... wait for it... THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY! (Go Buckeyes!) This book reminds me of how our Glorious Buckeyes lost to those cheating Hokies two weeks ago at VA Tech. You know Michael Vick went to VA Tech. And he fights dogs. Shame!

The guy who wrote this book should have been a lawyer or a doctor, or somebody successful. Something that
Mary Harju
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of the best books of the summer--maybe even the year! It is truly epic, blending archetypes, mythology, and a dreamlike confrontation of excruciatingly personal dilemmas. A husband and wife come together and apart, making children, fighting against nature, and finally fighting with nature against each other. The theme of memory is continually present, being shaped and honed continually by the action taking place. Anyone who's been in a long-term relationship will come across painful flashes ...more
Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this. At first I was worried I wouldn't be able to get into it—Bell strips everything of proper name, all features of detail. We know little except that there are woods, and dirt, and lake, and house. The only granular information readers get is bodily: Bell does not skimp on anatomical information. Anyway, though it is fable-like in its very conscious simplicity, it is enough. A beautiful, terrible, sad, and gut-curdling book. ...more
Clark Knowles
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
you can read a better formatted version of this at

I'm not a reviewer of books, merely a reader. I read carefully, of course, as someone who writes must read. But I've never been much of a reviewer. For the most part, I don't really read a lot of reviews either. I tend to find new books through recommendations and quite often, through acquaintances. That's how I found Matt Bell's new book In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. I know Matt through Facebook
Jaime Boler
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: june-2013

Reading Matt Bell’s first novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, I often looked up from the book and blinked furiously in confusion. I expected to see a house with myriad rooms, a strange sky above me, a lake in the distance, and a wooded green. Instead, my own familiar environs surrounded me. That is just how powerful the setting is in Bell’s dreamlike, fabled, and beautiful debut. The story of a marriage and its collapse become much more as Bell infuses myth, allegor
I came across this book on The Book Page, and since they called it mesmerizing, I had to request for a copy from NetGalley. I found I liked the title too, to the point. There's a lake and there are woods, and upon the dirt there's a house. A labyrinthine house full of memories, mostly sad - because the couple inhabiting them have not had a great marriage. They've struggled for a baby, and they have had several miscarriages. They grow incrementally disillusioned and cruel with each other until on ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Matt Bell's In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is a dreamy and poetic story. The novel is not a quick read and I'm not entirely sure yet what I think of it, but it is frequently rewarding. It tells of the costs of marriage, of the ways relationships stunt and twist us, the ways our expectations of each other warp us. It tells of the desire for family and the pains this desire brings when thwarted and when fulfilled. It tells of the ways that our bodies betray us and the wa ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard to write a review for this kind of genre-bending book. It is such a detailed, nuanced novel, so wholly original, that it is tough to put into words what exactly makes it work. Because it does work.
I suppose it’s the writing. The lush, wandering narrative takes the reader on almost an underwater journey. Our senses are diffused by the fable-like story until we are just a little intoxicated by the descriptions. We never find out where it takes place, we don’t know the protagonists names,
Mar 17, 2013 added it
i really love Matt's short fiction, have taught WOLF PARTS a few times now, and had been looking forward to reading his first novel all summer -- even saved it as a reward for finishing up a bunch of other stuff. i'm disappointed.

the epic mythicality of the narrative is at times quite awesome (i particularly enjoyed the squid-whale) and there is a lot to love in its fearless gruesomeness. but ultimately i couldn't get past the narrative's reification of masculine/feminine principles, its obsess
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Upon reading the first few pages it was immediately clear that this book was somewhat out of my comfort zone. I don't know how to explain it other than it wasn't a book I would normally choose. And yet, The writing is hauntingly beautiful and compelling.

I started with the sample and couldn't help but think that it read like a short story - how was this going to carry through for an entire novel? Yet it did. The story keeps spinning and spinning around and each time I think there can't be more,
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
As I was reading this I felt profound jealousy at Bell's ability to write an entire novel woven, sentence by sentence, of pure poetry. This book has elevated the standard of what I previously perceived as "beautifully written".
The story itself could easily be a poem, it's figurative yet literal and visceral and bloody and undoubtedly haunting. It doesn't shy away from its gore. It doesn't attempt to mask the undertones of nausea running through it. It gives you a family in its rawest state, dis
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Matt Bell’s next novel, Appleseed, is forthcoming from Custom House in July 2021. His craft book Refuse to Be Done, a guide to novel writing, rewriting, & revision, will follow in early 2022 from Soho Press. He is also the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall, a non-fiction bo ...more

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