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Safe as Houses

Marie-Helene Bertino

Publication Year: 2012

Safe as Houses, the debut story collection of Marie-Helene Bertino, proves that not all homes are shelters. The titular story revolves around an aging English professor who, mourning the loss of his wife, robs other people's homes of their sentimental knick-knacks. In "Free Ham," a young dropout wins a ham after her house burns down and refuses to accept it. “Has my ham done anything wrong?” she asks when the grocery store manager demands that she claim it.
In "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph," a failed commercial writer moves into the basement of a convent and inadvertently discovers the secrets of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. A girl, hoping to talk her brother out of enlisting in the army, brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving dinner in the quiet, dreamy "North Of." In “The Idea of Marcel,” Emily, a conservative, elegant girl, has dinner with the idea of her ex-boyfriend, Marcel. In a night filled with baffling coincidences, including Marcel having dinner with his idea of Emily, she wonders why we tend to be more in love with ideas than with reality. In and out of the rooms of these gritty, whimsical stories roam troubled, funny people struggling to reconcile their circumstances to some kind of American Ideal and failing, over and over. 
The stories of Safe as Houses are magical and original and help answer such universal and existential questions as: How far will we go to stay loyal to our friends? Can we love a man even though he is inches shorter than our ideal? Why doesn’t Bob Dylan ever have his own smokes? And are there patron saints for everything, even lost socks and bad movies?

All homes are not shelters. But then again, some are. Welcome to the home of Marie-Helene Bertino. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: Iowa Short Fiction Award

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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Free Ham

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pp. 1-12

Two of the angels are a man and his daughter who fl oat by in a car with a shiny hood ornament. He is hunched forward in a gentleman’s suit, and she is in a cotton candy coat. His hand reaches behind him to say, in one smooth gesture, Do not worry. When we get home, our house will not have a fire in it. ...

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Sometimes You Break Their Hearts, Sometimes They Break Yours

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pp. 13-20

I am like everyone else — good at some things, bad at others. I am good at eating clementines. I am bad at drawing straight lines. I am good at drinking coffee. I would be bad at building a house. If someone asked me to build them a house, I would have to say no. Or I would say yes and worry they would not like the house I built. ...

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The Idea of Marcel

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pp. 21-32

It had been three months since the breakup, and Emily was reclaiming relationship landmarks. She arranged to meet her date at what had been her and Marcel’s second favorite café. The forecast was rain. A pear-colored umbrella hung over the chair where Emily sat wearing a pear-colored skirt, drinking water, ...

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North Of

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pp. 33-48

We park in front of my mom’s house — my mom, who has been waiting for us at the door, probably since dawn. Her hello carries over the lawn. Bob Dylan opens the car door, stretches one leg and then the other. He wears a black leather coat and has spent the entire ride from New York trying to remember the name of a guitarist he played with in Memphis. ...

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This Is Your Will to Live

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pp. 49-58

The front room of my house has a table and not much else. The large bay windows invite nature in; it was the major selling point when I bought this house, but it’s not much for privacy. Now, as I held the door open for the salesman, I was glad for it. If he planned to murder me, he would have to do it in front of these large windows, ...

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Great, Wondrous

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pp. 59-86

I was the one without powers, the keeper of notes, but I was the one with a car. Back then it was a gleaming Toyota, given to me by my father upon acceptance at Vanilla University, a leafy and religious school whose students were voted best-looking every year in Hot magazine. ...

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Safe as Houses

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pp. 87-99

We steal the dish — a ceramic art-class concoction that brags, Daddy. We steal the macaroni valentines. The calico cookie jar and the framed cross-stitch, we smash. “Friends Are Flowers in the Garden of Life” preens the embroidered pillow before we gut it with kitchen shears. ...

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Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph

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pp. 100-126

I am quitting a boy like people quit smoking. I am not quitting smoking. The pamphlet insists: Each time you crave a cigarette, eat an apple or start a hobby! Each time I think about Clive, I smoke a cigarette. If I have already smoked a cigarette, I eat an apple. If I have already eaten an apple, I start a hobby. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381318
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381141

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Iowa Short Fiction Award