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Cover of A Tree or a Person or a Wall by Matt Bell
September 2016
Soho Press

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A Tree or a Person or a Wall

Matt Bell

Here we have Matt Bell at his most inventive and uncanny: parents and children, murderers and monsters, wild renditions of the past, stunning visions of the present — all of which build to a virtuoso reimagining of our world.

A 19th-century minister builds an elaborate motor that will bring about the Second Coming. A man with rough hands locks a boy in a room with an albino ape. An apocalyptic army falls under a veil of forgetfulness. The story of Red Riding Hood is run through a potentially endless series of iterations. A father invents an elaborate, consuming game for his hospitalized son. Indexes, maps, a checkered shirt buried beneath a blanket of snow: they are scattered through these pages as clues to mysteries that may never be solved, lingering evidence of the violence and unknowability of the world.

"A Tree or a Person or a Wall" brings together Bell’s previously published shorter fiction — the story collection "How They Were Found" and the acclaimed novella "Cataclysm Baby" — along with seven dark and disturbing new stories, to create a collection of singular power.


Matt Bell is an associate professor of English at Arizona State University.

Praise for this book

"A specific kind of focused pain forms the language of Bell’s tales. ... These stories take “everyday” horrors like hoarding, missing children and cultural unrest and saturate them with the kind of rich, layered text that make the works of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin so enduring."

Los Angeles Review of Books

"These fables plumb the depths of human longing. ... A collection that resonates like a tuning fork, lingering after the book is closed." 

Publishers Weekly