How They Were Found

October 5, 2010
Keyhole Press
Trade Paperback · 244 pages
5" x 8" · $13.95
ISBN 978-0982151259

Includes the story "Dredge," a Best American Mystery Stories selection, and the story "His Last Great Gift," a Best American Short Stories Distinguished Story of 2009.


In his debut collection How They Were Found, Matt Bell draws from a wide range of genres to create stories that are both formally innovative and imaginatively rich. In one, a 19th-century minister follows ghostly instructions to build a mechanical messiah. In another, a tyrannical army commander watches his apocalyptic command slip away as the memories of his men begin to fade and fail. Elsewhere, murders are indexed, new worlds are mapped, fairy tales are fractured and retold and then fractured again. 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.

"Reminscent of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Winter War in Tibet in its calm examination and unsettling embodiment of mental and physical extremes, How They Were Found is a dreamer's chronicle of the loss and partial recovery of a world given over to the wrecking ball. Fierce, unflinching, funny, How They Were Found is just the book we need right now, Matt Bell just the writer." —Laird Hunt, author of Ray of the Star

"How They Were Found offers a world with shifting rules, described with a lovely and deceptive simplicity. This guide shows you thirteen different types of wilderness, and you can spend all day exploring before you realize you are lost." —Amelia Gray, author of Museum of the Weird and AM/PM

"You're a robot if the stories in Matt Bell's debut collection don't exhilarate, frighten, and unalterably change you. His wild manipulation of form and genre makes the bulk of contemporary fiction feel bloodless and inert in comparison, but it is Bell's recurring arrival at something sturdy and true about human behavior that makes the stories in How They Were Found so rewarding and resonant." —Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times: Stories


"As the stories in this debut collection add up, so do the bodies, people done in by diverse, often fantastical methods and accidents: drowning, freezing, crushing, knifing, shooting, suffocation, disease, traps, saws, dismemberment, exposure, and more. Then there are the disappearances: a cartographer’s sick girlfriend vanishes, a homunculus starts shrinking. The comparatively few characters who remain alive and present are preoccupied with others’ annihilations... Body toll notwithstanding, How They Were Found is anything but bleak. For one thing, there’s the prose: generous, urgent, rhythmic.... As the collection continues and the deaths and disappearances pile up, it becomes increasingly clear that, in the various microcosms of How They Were Found, only the tales the characters leave behind can survive their fleeting lives." —Reese Okyong Kwon, The Believer

"Bell attempts and succeeds at a crucial, yet risky, concept that’s essential to great writing: the concept of fusion and hybrid. First and foremost is the magical formula that most young writers have a hard time grasping, the fusion of style and substance. The style in this case being the fantastical elements of each story and the substance being the human connections and emotions that Bell endows his characters with. While most all of the stories in HTWF could easily be filed under the fantasy section, don’t let the nerdish connotation of the genre fool you. Bell’s characters are undoubtedly human, dealing with everyday feelings of loss, change, heartbreak, hope, ambition and discovery.

How They Were Found is a triumph of a debut collection. Bell has a command over story far surpassing anyone else in his league. Don’t miss this book." —Chris Heavener, Annalemma Magazine

"Bell brings us everything: symbolism, futurism à la David Ohle, devastation, surrealism, scenic energy, fractured fairytales, consumption, struggle, claustrophobia, and family decay. But this is not to say How They Were Found spreads itself too thin or is too chaotically varied; Bell knows how to keep his world in check, his every word balanced against another, delicately, like a system of weights." —J.A. Tyler, The Rumpus

"Matt Bell’s debut collection of short fiction covers abundant ground, from the fairy-tale deconstruction of 'Wolf Parts' to the imploded tale of crime and punishment contained in 'Dredge.' Bell’s fiction is taut and surreal, and the best stories in this collection—such as 'Hold On To Your Vacuum,' with its structure somewhere between dream and video game—seem both classical in their approach and utterly modern in their sensibility." —Tobias Carroll, Flavorwire

"No matter what I write here, I cannot tell you how great this book is. In fact, I’m not even sure I know how to write a review that will do it justice. So let’s just agree on this point from the start: however great you think Matt Bell’s new collection might be after reading this review, it’s better. As I’ve read and re-read the stories in How They Were Found over the last several weeks, I’ve found myself telling everyone who will listen about it. These stories are infinitely compelling, poised exactly on the brink of explosion, the perfect balance of potency and control." —Troy Urquhart, PANK

"The characters in Matt Bell’s first full length-collection of stories, How They Were Found, often seem to be separated from the rest of the world by filmy gauze. You get the idea that a real world surrounds these folks, but they are estranged from that reality by a loose mesh that keeps them from seeing their surroundings clearly or engaging with them fully. As Bell writes of the main character in 'His Last Great Gift,' it is 'as if his ears are filled with cotton or wax, as if this is something in the way of true communication, and the real world seems just as distant, just as difficult to navigate.' Often neither the characters’ names nor their physical features are revealed. Little information is provided about their past. They are just there, searching—or, as the book’s title suggests, waiting to be found. This is not to say that the prose itself is cloudy; it allows us more than enough peeks at beauty, mystery, playfulness, and well-constructed absurdity to make this collection satisfying on many levels." —Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Triquarterly

"These stories are heavy, they are beautifully written, they are deep, they are bold, formally and thematically, yet, no matter how form busting or experimental they can be, they are always page turners in the best sense." —Robert Kloss

"The subjects who wander through the haze of How They Were Found are all horribly damaged hopeless souls who bump against travesty after tragedy. They are ugly, gnarled, deformed and maligned. And probably, this is the reason they are so affecting: they do unspeakable things both to themselves and others, and there is but a negligible delineation between them and us. Perhaps, even, they have the courage to act on their impulses, and we can only hope to be so brave." —Nik Korpon, Outsider Writers Collective

"It’s not what is grotesque about Matt Bell’s characters that transfix the reader, it’s what is so human and commonplace about them. It’s impossible not to identify with even the most psychologically disfigured of these people, and that is one of the elements that creates such urgency to read more of Bell’s stories... The span of emotional range in these stories is also astonishing. 'The Cartographer’s Girl' is one of the most affecting stories of lost love that I have ever read." —Debrah Lechner, Hayden's Ferry Review

"Bell imbues his stories with rich symbolism, and his authorial voice adds elements of calm eeriness that make his stories eminently readable." —Marie Mundaca, Hipster Book Club
"Even if Bell's universes are filled with people whose ropes are too short, time is too long, memories are too elusive, instruments too outmoded, and worlds too distant, they connect to us directly through the heart. And it's because of the heart that Bell puts into his stories that makes the intellectual exercise of them so accessible. It may not be a happy heart, but it often beats in time with our own." —Jen Michalski, JMWW

"Taken together, the entirety of this collection represents an attempt to marry several generations of literary techniques, to find common ground between the ultra-modern and the classical, the historic and the post-modern. It’s a venture at which Bell succeeds, yielding something that’s also a pleasure to read." —Tobias Carroll, Word Riot

"Matt Bell has built a national reputation on his own terms, completely outside the support system of New York publishing, on the strength of his stories and novellas, which are wholly original and singularly his own. He is that rare sort of writer whose work the reader would recognize even if were published anonymously. It is formally daring, high-stakes, languaged-up stuff, and (lucky us!), the best of it has finally been collected at book length. Here is some consumer advocacy: You will be a happier, more fulfilled, better entertained human being if you buy this book today." —Kyle Minor, HTMLGiant

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