Book Review: “Life, Bound” by Marian Matta (@MidnightSunOne @EasternRegional)

Life, Bound (MidnightSun Publishing, October 2020) by Marian Matta

U.S. author Stephen King famously said, “A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger. That is not, of course, the same thing as an affair or a marriage, but kisses can be sweet, and their very brevity forms their own attraction.”

In this sense, Marian Matta’s short stories may be described as “quick kisses in the dark”. Collected under the title “Life, Bound”, these 16 stories are brief yet with lingering attraction, for we often catch glimpses of their subjects and themes out of the corner of our eyes.

Matta’s stories are snippets of human lives, like slices of a savoury pie lovingly prepared by our local bakery. One bite of a single slice is enough for us to imagine how rich and delicious the whole pie is. The taste is familiar – a reminder of our hometown.

Matta’s characters exist everywhere in our community – people chasing fame and glory, people fleeing violence and trauma, people seeking redemption, and people striving to self-define. Inevitably, there are couples in love, couples bound by love, couples liberated from love, and couples missing out on love.

But there is often a touch of kindness in Matta’s calm and detailed illustration of the many tragedies and triumphs of humanity. As an author, she shows much compassion and empathy to her characters who are trapped in situations not of their own making and/or out of their control.

In each story, Matta observes how her characters react to their restrictive circumstances. While some choose to rebel against their oppressors, others patiently wait for salvation. Still others are able to endure their misfortune by taking action to care for each other. All are graciously documented.

It is this sense of grace subtly conveyed through Matta’s writing that reminds this reviewer of Vincent van Gogh, whose eyes “watch the world and can’t forget”. To borrow Don McLean’s words, as “weathered faces lined in pain / are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand”, readers are able to find comfort and peace. Life once again becomes bearable because someone else has (temporarily) exorcised its dark shadow.

Matta has a clear knack for writing, her excellent choice of words vividly projecting images straight into our imagination. For example: “She is dowdy like the other hundred or so wives in the dying town are dowdy, their colours all drained away, their blues sucked up into the hot sky, their greens absorbed into the sombre gums which fringe the small holdings, their reds bled out every month until another pregnancy intervenes. Grey wraiths are all that’s left.”

Matta is also unafraid of experimenting. The 16 short stories vary considerably in terms of length, style, atmosphere, perspective, and message, their only shared feature being a distinct focus on discovery. Whether it is discovery of oneself or others is beside the point, as long as the process is worth it.

And, as many of the characters in Life, Bound have told us – it is.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Short stories a quick kiss” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, June 8, 2021, Page 12.

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