In his first full-length novel, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell (Cataclysm Baby) shatters narrative convention to deliver an allegory with the compelling power of mythology.
Two newlyweds, their names never given, build a house on a faraway shore. Like many young couples, they foresee nothing but simplicity and happiness. Together, they create their home, which the wife furnishes with objects sung into existence by her beautiful voice. For a time, all is new and full of promise as they fish in their lake, keep house and expect the birth of their first child, which the husband desires above all things.
However, when the baby comes early, stillborn and deformed, the husband does the unthinkable and swallows it. The fetus remains in his body, taking on a stilted life of its own and becoming the inner voice of the husband's doubts as pregnancy after pregnancy fails. With every miscarriage, the wife sings more stars out of the sky, until finally the sky is dark save for two moons, one natural, one sung into being by the wife, who intends to crash it into the earth if she loses another child.
With doom literally hanging over their heads, the couple undertakes one last gestation, but its result spells disaster not only for their marriage but also for the balance of life in the woods, where a mysterious and powerful bear reigns supreme over all creatures. To restore equilibrium to the land and his love, the husband must journey deep into the earth where his wife now hides, in a labyrinth of rooms filled with the memories of happier times; he must also face the wrath of the Bear and the cunning of a monster who has lived in the lake since time immemorial.
Mythic elements such as animal transformation and mysterious foundling children give the characters in Bell's allegory a trace of the godlike even as they battle with a very human dilemma: how to sustain an unwillingly childless marriage. The silent but festering blame, the estrangement of grief, the sometimes violent internal upheaval partners must undergo to reforge their definition of family--Bell recreates it all in searing, epic symbolism underscored by a warning of the consequences of reaching too far in pursuit of a dream. Though unrelentingly heartbreaking, this debut novel wrings such beauty from pain that readers will relish every shred of sorrow. --Jaclyn Fulwood
Shelf Talker: An allegorical epic about a couple whose magic cannot give them the one thing they want--a child--explores human love and loss via mythic symbolism.