A clutch of stories with a flavor of the experimental, the apocalyptic, and often both.
Bell’s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (2013), was an extended riff on origin myths with prose that foregrounded the loping lyricism of the title. Much of this collection is written in a similar mode, though the mood is usually darker. “Wolf Parts” is a visceral rewrite of “Little Red Riding Hood” that focuses on those big teeth the wolf has, “The Migration” is a collective dispatch about outrage and riots after the murder of a pregnant immigrant, and “The Collectors” revisits the grim tale of the Collyer brothers, hoarders found dead in their overstuffed New York home. That last story is just one example of how much Bell enjoys exploring the moments when rationality slackens into madness, and he’s superb at it in “His Last Great Gift,” about a preacher who persuades his congregation that he’s invented a crackpot “New Motor” that will improve society. And “Dredge” is a pitch-perfect noir about a troubled man who keeps a drowned woman’s body in his basement freezer. Bell has a try-anything attitude that makes him an important emerging writer, but not every experiment comes off. The gambit of “An Index of How Our Family Was Killed”—its paragraphs are arranged alphabetically—mutes the intended atmosphere of loss and destruction. Likewise, the novella Cataclysm Baby, built on 26 vignettes about lost children in a degrading world, is overly engineered and clogged with portentous phrasings (“none remaining to bear our future forth except those afloat beyond the last lands of the West…”).
Admirable efforts to strip familiarity and sentiment from stories of humanity at its worst, albeit with hit-or-miss execution.