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Matta’s ‘Life Bound’ stories are moving

Life Bound
Marian Matta
MidnightSun Publishing (distributed by NewSouth Books), $25

Life Bound is Marian Matta’s debut collection of short stories – and it’s a beauty. Earthy characters, evocative settings, and intriguing plotlines make these 16 stories sing from the page.

“Writing fiction isn’t a science” says Matta, “for me, it’s a glorious, muddled art form in which inspiration and direction can present themselves in the most unlikely ways.”

Such liberty could easily wreak havoc but in this Aussie author’s assured hands it yields deeply intuitive and highly approachable tales.

A self-confessed history tragic, internet junkie and circus student, Matta lives in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, and I felt the heartbeat of regional Australia pulsing through Life Bound’s pages.

Matta is a genius of the slow reveal. Scattering little breadcrumbs, she gradually exposes each character and their complexities and then shifts the plot-dance that has been keeping us guessing. Suddenly, the penny drops and we can see where she’s been taking us all along.

If you only have time to cherry pick a few of these marvellously diverse pieces, I’d recommend:

“The Heart of Harvey’s Lane”
“… the house was picture-perfect too in that quaintly abandoned way that gets renovators itching to arrange a mortgage and break out the colour charts.”

“A Bench, A Bard, A Turning Tide”
“[Ethan] asked her permission to sit on her bench and enjoy it with her for a while. Now he’s become part of the furniture, like that side-table you trip over every so often.”

“Claimed by the Sea”
“The sea has begrudgingly released a few treasures over the years – a silver spoon, a letterbox (17 No Junk Mail Please), a raft of pine with nautical-themed ceramic tiles still clinging on. Even a gas stove made it back to shore once, lolling in the shallows like a tired turtle amidst seaweed and driftwood.”

“Danny Boy”
“If he tipped his chair back, the window permitted him a narrow glimpse of the rail yards and the station with their fringe of tracks, snaking signs of journeys begun, journeys completed, lives in motion.”

Harvey’s Lane is a house that a photographer purchases and explores – and which ultimately exerts a powerful influence over her choices. The house (that “rambled as if it had a mind of its own”) becomes the pivot around which the story revolves. The tale is a beautiful, dreamlike narrative that illuminates how a person’s needs and desires can shift over time.

I first read “Danny Boy” back in 2013 and its empathy and unexpectedness really moved me. This time (even though I was prepared for the twist!) I was still impressed by how skilfully Matta handled her sensitive subject.

Author Joanna Atherfold Finn says the characters in Life Bound are “so astutely drawn that you want to follow them off the page” – and there are a number of characters in this collection I’d love to shadow home. Will Matta soon give us more stories featuring Ethan (a softly spoken young hippie with a heart of gold), Alice (a “greying and gruff” lover and confidante with empathy to burn) and Zephora Penfold (a well-respected wood-carver who, I’m pretty sure, holds some dark secrets close to her chest)? I certainly hope so!

Life Bound is a witty and intelligent collection without being high-brow. Even readers who claim they “just can’t get into short stories” should find some gems here to savour.

Easy to devour and moving – it’s the perfect stocking filler. Grab your copies now.

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books@ssh.com.au

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