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A Tree or a Person or a Wall: Stories

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  159 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A 19th-century minister builds an elaborate motor that will bring about the Second Coming. A man with rough hands locks a boy in a room with an albino ape. An apocalyptic army falls under a veil of forgetfulness. The story of Red Riding Hood is run through a potentially endless series of iterations. A father invents an elaborate, consuming game for his hospitalized son. In ...more
Paperback, 383 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Soho Press
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Roger Brunyate
Jul 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Inventive but Often Gross

Well, they warn you: "Dark and disturbing… a virtuoso reimagining of our world." Full credit for that imagination; I just found the darkness hard to take. I have read nine of these 18 stories—including the longest at 65 pages, so rather over half—and that is enough for me.
Or maybe Red returned not with a line of small girls but with the wolf himself in tow, a rope turned cruel around his neck and her knife wet with his protests. In this version, it wasn't until she re
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really interesting and somewhat bizarre stories. As with all collections of stories, some were better than others but some were absolutely fantastic. The author has a very interesting writing style which won't be for everyone. The stories beg to be read aloud which I did for the most part. I'm curious to see what this authors novels are like now I've had a taste of their writing.
Brian Wraight
Stopped reading after 125 pages due to getting annoyed with Bell's highly allegorical style. Every sentence is a riddle shrouded in vagueness wrapped in symbolism soaked in wannabe intellectualism dipped in sophomoric philosophizing.
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully weird short stories
Blake Fraina
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Matt Bell’s A Tree or a Person or a Wall might be categorized as Existentialist Horror. If human beings are the architects of our own fate, then Bell’s stories suggest we’ve pretty much made a hash of it.

As a warning to fans of Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe or even Shirley Jackson, you won’t find anything that straightforward within these pages. These are literary allegories chock full of evocative and disturbing imagery with plots that are often vague or surrealistic. Most seem to deal with t
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, own, vine
I picked up this book because I read an article extolling its creepiness and thought it would be a good Halloween read (despite not typically being a fan of short story collections). Well, I ended up not finishing several stories because they were too vague or confusing and just didn’t hold my attention. Others I skimmed or skipped entirely. The few that elicited any positive reaction from me were Dredge, The Collectors, and A Long Walk With Only Chalk to Mark the Way. I made notations on other ...more
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Creepy, spooky, unsettling, but delightful. Reminds me somewhat of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, but even darker.
Kurt Baumeister
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: formal-review
Success and Its Trappings

By Kurt Baumeister (for Electric Literature 10/10/16)

Weighing in at a hefty four hundred pages, Matt Bell’s latest story collection, A Tree or a Person or a Wall (Soho), comes in the wake of his critically-acclaimed novels (also from Soho), In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (2013) and Scrapper (2015). An early-career retrospective of sorts, much of the material contained in A Tree or a Person or a Wall originated in Bell’s Indie-published volumes,
Maya White-Lurie
While I really enjoy the way Bell tells these stories, their similarities make this collection derivative. Some of the stories are great and fully showcase the discomfort and beauty Bell evokes well. Others feel forced and drag along.

I may feel this way because I read "Scrapper," which also bears great similarity to these stories.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's always difficult to review a short story collection because I tend to read them over time and between novels- but this was an exceptional collection. These stories are not pretty, yet Matt Bell captures the horror, desperation, isolation, and absurd tales with a straightforward writing style that somehow makes them beautiful
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book as an audiobook and only got about 5 stories in before I had to stop. The first story (“A Tree, A Person, or a Wall”) I just did not enjoy. I felt confused for most of it, wondering if the whole thing was a metaphor and I just wasn’t thinking hard enough about it. It kept me interested but left me wanting something less abstract. 4/10.
“Doll Parts” was captivating from the beginning: a story of how a young neurotic girl deals with the disappearance of her twin brother. I w
Franco Romero
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matt Bell's style is unique. There is no other contemporary author who weaves sentences like his, or who by extension is able to navigate the sentences themselves into stepping stones that guide the reader to a point, or sometimes to an idea or other times still beyond an idea. His style is not one that will be appreciated by any reader. This is not a book that, for instance, one would give as a birthday present to a friend that reads casually. What it is however is a deeply rewarding reading ex ...more
Sarah Pitman
I don’t know. This should have been a four or five star. I was so ready for it at first. I love weird. I love magic realism, eeriness, unexplained disturbance. But somehow...this book didn’t do it for me. Line by line writing was great, lyrical. But the characters were almost all...the same. In the authors attempts to make this fairytale-like, to lean into the beauty of the strange, I feel he lost concrete characterization in many of these stories. Everyone was part of a gorgeous, elaborate tale ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adam Rodenberger
I have loved Matt Bell's writing since I first read "How They Were Found," a collection from which many of the stories in this collection originated. He is dark and constantly keeps my brain buzzing long after a story or book is finished. I appreciate his imagination as mine often goes off into strange places as well (not because it's considered "cool" to write that way, as some suggest; it's just how some of us are built).

He makes me want to be a better writer myself, to plumb the depths of my
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is probably a good way to introduce yourself to Matt Bell's short fiction, as it compiles a bunch of his older work (Cataclysm Baby is a favorite of mine and what made me a fan of Bell's) with some newer stories. You get a good idea of his go-to themes (children, parenthood, disappearance), which are complemented by a style that's somehow both simple and artful. This isn't straight-up horror, as some seemed to expect, but if gross, horrifying allegory makes your brain tingle, I'd give this ...more
Gerry LaFemina
Matt Bell is good at what he does--these post modern stories, often without characters, use a lot of poetic technique, which satisfies the poet in me...sometimes. The fact is the book feels dense, the prose gimmicky in that way that suggests the author is getting more out of it than the reader will get. One doesn't get insight into the lives of characters but into mindset of an author, anguage itself, and the boundaries of narrative.
Iza Kocsis
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
If the title of this short story collection raises an eyebrow, that’s because its thought provoking content is on full display. As with his previous works, including the novels In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (2014) and Scrapper (2015), as well as his previous collection How They Were Found (2013), Matt Bell blurs the often fine lines between literary and genre fictions, allegory and horror, magical realism and bizarro in these 18 tales.

(A side note to Bell fans: there
Sep 07, 2019 added it
Shelves: short-stories
Stories that tend toward the magically real, fairy tales and the weird. Kind of ran together for me and always seemed to be reminding me how clever they are. That's probably just a me thing, though; I'm not the right audience for this book. Skipped and skimmed after a while and just had to lay it down. Highlight: "Dredge."
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matt Bell has this way of telling stories that are both fantastic legend and unadorned reality. Beautiful, heartbreaking, unbearable, and necessary. Impossibly dark and yet full of light. I adore his work.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well-written, if incredibly bleak. Dark and moody; a couple stories in particular are downright haunting.
One standout for me was "Wolf Parts" - a poetic Red Riding Hood. Reminiscent of Angela Carter.
Heather Nilson
Some of the stories were compelling and gruesome, some were just gruesome, and some were convoluted and confusing.
Ashley Rodriguez
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took a few stories to really get into, and of course some were better than others. Once I got used to Bell's writing style I enjoyed his creepy narratives.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This was a tough book to get through. So dark. It makes the zombie apocalypse seem downright hopeful.
Jul 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
can I say pretentious?
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Quite enjoyable, even if the overall tone of the collection of shorts was dark and dismal. I always enjoy when an author has a way with words, and Bell certainly does. It's probably not everyone, but rarely is something good, that is. I didn't read the 400 pages from cover to cover, a few shorts I skimmed and a one or two I skipped all together. So, no five stars. But really this was probably one of my favorite reads for 2016.

A few excerpts:

"Her baby is a thunderstorm, a bundle of negatively and
Pearse Anderson
Before reading this I wondered in Matt Bell wrote all his prose like In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. According to this: yup. He has such a developed sense of language and sentence structure. It's so fucking poetic. It's primitive, elemental, jagged. After the first story in this collection (the title story), I breathed out and said "Well, this is what it feels like to be back reading great prose." Bell does it again. Now, all his stories can seem repetitive, and his be ...more
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
If you have never read Matt Bell, this book is the place to start. Covering everything from historical fiction to magical realism to dystopian sci-fi, Bell's language propels the reader through dark, labyrinthine stories only to find that monster at the center isn't always what we think. Even if you have read How They Were Found and Cataclysm Baby, both of which are re-collected here, this collection is worth picking up for the seven brilliant new stories that prove that Bell continues to excel ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't not finished a book in quite a while, and I gave this a hell of an effort. I picked it up as an ARC and what caught my eye was the first story. It resembled in many ways a short story I had recently published. And it was good, strange, but good. From there I struggled. The way in which the author attacks each story is creative and some of the writing is near brilliant, but as a whole the stories fail to carry me along. I have 2000 other books in my to be read pile and so I don't feel t ...more
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Matt Bell is an American writer. He studied at Bowling Green State University. Currently, Bell teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University.

Matt Bell’s next novel, Appleseed, is forthcoming from Custom House/William Morrow in 2021.

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