Matt Bell first got my attention by imbuing the titular videogame character from Super Mario Brothers with a kind of sadness and depth in "Mario's Three Lives," a story ultimately chosen for reprint in Best American Fantasy. His stand-alone chapbook The Collectors confirmed the impression of an interesting new talent, one working in the same gray area as writers like Brian Evenson: a kind of middle ground between the real and the unreal that writers like Kafka also inhabit.
So it was with anticipation that I read his debut collection How They Were Found. While the tone of many of the stories is similar, the subject matter is wide-ranging, and as the cover copy reads, "Throughout these thirteen stories, Bell's careful prose burrows at the foundations of his characters' lives until they topple over, then painstakingly pores over the wreckage for what rubbled humanity might yet remain to be found."
The collection has received praise from a number of sources, including The Believer: "Body toll notwithstanding, How They Were Found is anything but bleak. For one thing, there's the prose: generous, urgent, rhythmic." Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times: Stories, wrote, "You're a robot if the stories in Matt Bell's debut collection don't exhilarate, frighten, and unalterably change you."
The book seemed like a good choice for the next read for the impromptu book club, Three Literary Creeps, that sprang up initially because of interest in Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps. The other two members of this troika are literary bloggers Paul Charles Smith (Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream) and Larry Nolen (The Of Blog), who have an interest in Decadent and cross-genre fiction. In reviewing the books we chose, we do not compare notes ahead of time.
That's proven particularly interesting this time around, as all three of us had different reactions, with some variation between what we felt were stronger and weaker stories. This suggests to me that Bell's collection has more variety than any of us acknowledge in ou review. Here are excerpts from those reviews, with links to the full versions. Definitely check out the collection.