Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The House at Belle Fontaine


by Lily Tuck

“Evocative stories of beautiful language and masterful economy . . . Tuck’s unflinching eye to detail and faithful ear for dialogue bring to life the brutal, the tragic, and the melancholy.” —S. Kirk Walsh, Boston Globe

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date May 13, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2106-6
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date May 07, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2016-8
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $23.00

About The Book

Lily Tuck’s The House at Belle Fontaine brings together ten of the award-winning author’s most exquisitely wrought and captivating stories. These intimate tales traverse time and continents, revealing apprehensions, passions, secrets, and tragedies among lovers, spouses, landlords and tenants, and lifelong friends. In crisp and penetrating prose, Tuck delicately probes at the lives of her characters as they navigate exotic locales and their own hearts: an artist learns that her deceased husband had an affair with their young house-guest; a retired couple strains to hold together their forty-year-old marriage on a ship bound for Antarctica; and a French family flees to Lima in the 1940s with devastating consequences for their daughter’s young nanny.


“Tuck packs a small universe and decades of emotional history into each story.” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly (A-)

“Impressive . . . Evocative stories of beautiful language and masterful economy . . . Tuck [has an] unflinching eye for detail and faithful ear for dialogue. . . . These striking, compact narratives are reminiscent of the exquisite short stories of Edith Pearlman . . . [and feature] a rich complexity that magnetically draws in the reader. We become intimate witnesses to these private lives falling apart and, in some cases, coming back together.” —S. Kirk Walsh, The Boston Globe

“[A] new collection from a master. . . . Tuck is a precise stylist [who gives these] . . . poetic and absorbing stories . . . an eerily disturbing quality. . . . [A] must read.” —Rebecca Lee, The Daily Beast

“Tuck’s fiction is filled with strong worldly women who travel or live wherever they want—whether their men join them or not. Her work is always elegantly concise, capturing intimacies and emotions with just a few words of description and telling dialogue. . . . Tuck’s fundamental focus [is] on the vicissitudes of relationships between men and women—and in this she is a master.” —Shelf Awareness

“Tuck proves she is gifted in the short form with stories reaching far into the physical and emotional senses. . . . Tuck’s agility and grace as a storyteller are quietly evident throughout her impressive collection. This is a writer at the top of her form.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Compact, intense, and finely crafted . . . Packs a punch . . . Tuck opens private windows into the lives of women in foreign lands. . . . These women, unsatisfied with their lives, go searching for answers to their longing, and though they do not find them, the reader understands that the act of striking out away from the known is somehow, itself, enough.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Remarkable for its technical expertise . . . Impressive work from a virtuoso.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The stories are, as expected, quiet and wonderful and devastating. It feels like you’re seeing moments that are so intimate that you should look away—not in an uncomfortable way, but just that she’s so incisive in the way that she presents the relationships in her stories. It’s really remarkable, and I’m only able to read a couple of them at a time before I feel like I need to take a deep breath and reassess my whole life before I read the next couple.” —Bookrageous podcast

Bookseller Praise

“A collection of intimate stories set in France and around the globe. Lily Tuck’s writing is addictive: It is hard not to read just one more before you turn out the light. The characters are genuine and flawed in ways we all are, and the setting is an important player in each tale. Mystery, intrigue, friendships, marriages, misunderstandings, love—they are all here. Each sentence is crafted to wring out the clearest voice or picture possible.” —Liza Bernard; Norwich Bookstore; Norwich, Vermont


A Publishers Weekly Best New Books of the Week pick


From the story “Ice”

On board the Caledonia Star, sailing through the Beagle Channel and past the city of Ushuaia on the way to Antarctica, Maud’s husband says, “Those lights will probably be the last we’ll see for a while.”

Mountains rise stark and desolate on both sides of the channel; already there does not look to be room for people. Above, the evening sky, a sleety gray, shifts to show a little patch of the lightest blue. Standing on deck next to her husband, Maud takes it for a good omen—the ship will not founder, they will not get seasick, they will survive the journey, their marriage more or less still intact.

Also, Maud spots her first whale, another omen; she spots two.

* * *

In the morning, early, the ship’s siren sounds a fire drill. Maud and Peter quickly put on waterproof pants, boots, sweaters, parkas, hats, gloves—in the event of an emergency, they have been told to wear their warmest clothes.

They strap on the life jackets that are hanging from a hook on the back of their cabin door and follow their fellow passengers up the stairs. The first officer directs them to the ship’s saloon; they are at Station 2, he tells them. On deck, Maud can see the lifeboats being lowered smoothly and efficiently and not, Maud can’t help but think, how it must have been on board the Andrea Doria—a woman who survived the ship’s collision once told Maud how undisciplined and negligent the Italian crew was. The first officer is French—the captain and most of the other officers are Norwegian—and he is darkly handsome. As he explains the drill, he looks steadily and impassively above the passengers’ heads as if, Maud thinks, the passengers are cattle; in vain, she tries to catch his eye. When one of the passengers tries to interrupt with a joke, the first officer rebukes him with a sharp shake of the head and continues speaking.

When the drill is over and still wearing his life jacket, Peter leaves the saloon, saying he is going up on deck to breathe some fresh air, and Maud goes back down to the cabin.

* * *

Of the eighty or so passengers on board the Caledonia Star, the majority are couples; a few single women travel together; one woman is in a wheelchair. The average age, Maud guesses, is mid- to late sixties and, like them—Peter was a lawyer and Maud a speech therapist (she still works three days a week at a private school)—most are retired professionals. And although Maud and Peter learned about the cruise from their college alumni magazine, none of the passengers—some of whom they assume must have attended the same college—look familiar to them. “Maybe they all took correspondence courses,” Peter says. Since his retirement, Peter has been restless and morose. “No one,” he complains to Maud, “answers my phone calls anymore.” The trip to Antarctica was Maud’s idea.

When Maud steps out on deck to look for Peter, she does not see him right away. The ship rolls from side to side—they have started to cross the Drake Passage—and already they have lost sight of land. When Maud finally finds Peter, her relief is so intense she nearly shouts as she hurries over to him. Standing at the ship’s rail, looking down at the water, Peter does not appear to notice Maud. Finally, without moving his head, he says in a British-inflected, slightly nasal voice, “Did you know that the Drake Passage is a major component of the coupled ocean-atmosphere climate system and that it connects all the other major oceans and that it influences the water-mass characteristics of the deep water over a large portion of the world?”

“Of course, darling,” Maud answers in the same sort of voice and takes Peter’s arm. “Everyone knows that.”

Peter has an almost photographic memory and is, Maud likes to say, the smartest man she has ever met. Instead of being a lawyer, Peter claims that he would have preferred being a mathematician. He is an attractive man; tall and athletic-looking, although he walks with a slight limp—he broke his leg as a child and the bones did not set properly—which gives him a certain vulnerability and adds to his appeal (privately, Maud accuses him of exaggerating the limp to elicit sympathy). And he still has a full head of hair, notwithstanding that it has turned gray, which he wears surprisingly long. Maud, too, is good-looking; slim, tall and blonde (the blonde is no longer natural but such a constant Maud would be hard put to say what her natural color is); her blue eyes, she claims, are still her best feature. Together, they make a handsome couple; they have been married for over forty years.

Maud knows Peter so well that she also knows that when he adopts this bantering tone with her either he is hiding something or he is feeling depressed. Or both. Instinctively, she tightens her grip on his arm.

“Let’s go in,” she says to him in her normal voice, “I’m cold.”