To Read Is to Fly

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” 
― Alberto Manguel


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In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods - Matt Bell I read this book as an ARC from Netgalley.

In [b:In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods|16041846|In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods|Matt Bell||19257642], [a:Matt Bell|678844|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 side of their house and woods on the other. The couple longs for children to make their family complete, but their efforts lead to a series of heartbreaking complications and misunderstandings, exacerbated by the husband's perplexity over his wife's seemingly magical powers of creation. I hesitate to tell more about the plot, such as it is, for fear of spoilers, but I can tell you that the novel features shape-shifting bears, foundlings and ghosts, acts of anger and revenge, and songs of creation and healing.

This is not a plot-driven novel. Bell's pacing is slow and meandering, and certain passages seem overly drawn out, which almost led me to give this book a three-star rating. However, his approach adds to the feeling of mystery and old magic in a book that is not at all a conventional work of fantasy or magical realism, but instead echoes the cadences of old tales from a long-lost oral tradition. My sense is that the novel could have benefited from some tighter editing. However, for readers who are willing to take their time with the novel and read it slowly, there's a wealth of themes to explore, and eerily-effective passages to read and savor. Much of the novel focuses on tensions surrounding fatherhood: Oedipal relationships, pain over losing closeness with a spouse, fear of death and loss of power to one's children. These themes are especially pronounced because much of the novel is told from the point of view of the husband. However, as we get deeper into the story, his wife's perspective also emerges. leading to depth in Bell's exploration of the complexity of marriage, and some sense of hope for generations to come.

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