How They Were Found, Matt Bell, Keyhole Press, 2010
Sometimes as a reader you encounter writing that is so remarkably different from the standard fare, it literally opens you to new ideas about what writing can be. I'm finding this to be especially true with my recent "indie" reads, of which How They Were Found, stories by Matt Bell, is a stellar example. How They Were Found is a collection of intense, often chilling, and excellent stories that plumb the depths of human love, loss, death, disturbance, and grief.
The collection opens with the wistful "The Cartographer's Girl." I first read this story as part of the FridayReads Modern Love Anthology, sparking my interest in the rest of Bell's collection. A cartographer's sleepwalking girlfriend has disappeared. In an attempt to find her and bring her home, he desperately maps out the places and moments of their relationship. How do you make a map of a broken heart? And even if you can, will it bring your love back to you? A few of my other favorites included "Her Ennead," a brief but moving story about the powerful and sometimes complicated feelings that can accompany impending motherhood; "The Leftover," a funny yet poignant story about what is lost when we try to fix our romantic partners' bad habits; "The Receiving Tower," an eerie, post-apocalyptic psychological thriller, and "The Collectors," the story of two hoarding brothers, literally trapped and destroyed by memories and mementos of the past.
Most of Bell's stories explore very dark places. In the compelling, creepy, and outstanding "Dredge," a man finds a drowned teen and keeps her. Although he knows he should call the authorities, a violent loss in his own past causes him to pursue a different, and ultimately tragic path. While the subject matter is of course gruesome and our character is very damaged, the story is wonderfully written and very suspenseful.
Loss, especially violent and profound loss, is also prevalent in the collection. In the heartwrenching "A Certain Number of Bedrooms, a Certain Number of Baths," a young boy, grieving his mother, clings to blueprints and dreams of a new house in which his diminished family could start over, while his father instead sinks further into depression:
"....without her they are alone even when they are with each other..."Every reader will have different comfort levels with material this intense. There were a few stories that I didn't like as much, probably only because they pushed the limits of my comfort zone. They were the rare exceptions, and I nevertheless found them to be extremely well written.