A Tree or a Person or a Wall: Stories

A Tree or a Person or a Wall collects Matt Bell's previously published work, including short stories from the collection How They Were Found and the novella Cataclysm Baby, alongside new works of short fiction. Bell certainly deserves the attention--his writing, equal parts Cormac McCarthy and H.P. Lovecraft, is as startling fresh and unclassifiable here as in his novels In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods and Scrapper.

Bell blithely ignores genre distinctions in pursuit of his apocalyptic vision, leaping nimbly from fable to science fiction to murder mystery and beyond. The first (and titular) story in the collection begins with the line: "Even before the man with rough hands brought the boy to the locked room, even then there was always already the albino ape sitting on the chair beside the nightstand, waiting for the man and the boy to come." And it gets only weirder from there. "Wolf Parts" retells the fable of Little Red Riding Hood over and over again in grotesque variations, from arguably perverse meditations on the wolf's anatomy to a bittersweet recasting of the tale as a love story.

Cataclysm Baby is the ne plus ultra of Bell's fiction, bringing his nightmarish lyricism to bear on the apprehensions associated with impending parenthood. Sometimes the imagined children are terrifying monsters with insectoid bodies; other times, it's the parents or the world that fails the children. One misshapen child asks: "In a world that's dying... isn't this all sort of beautiful?" and the reader will be forced to agree. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

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