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Read: ‘The Author’s Cut’ is a mix of stories highlighting the light and dark in humanity

Owen Marshall is a much-acclaimed writer of short stories and novels in New Zealand. He was appointed as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2000, and 12 years later he was promoted to ‘Companion’ for services to literature. This year, he published The Author’s Cut, a book containing a select grouping of his short stories written over four decades. 

My Thoughts:

Owen Marshall is the kind of author I like because his writing is direct and his plots are simple. While he is capable of imaginative descriptions, he doesn’t go overboard describing scenes or characters or enter into flights of metaphorical fancy that distract from the plot. 

That being said, the first story in this anthology is one I actually hated and won’t forget in a hurry. Perhaps that’s why he wrote it. The experience of reading Coming Home in the Dark is akin to being unexpectedly punched in the guts and being left to retch and gasp for breath. It is senselessly violent and I had to put the entire anthology aside for a week to recover. Honestly, this story left me wondering what the hell this author was on when he wrote it. I am writing this review a few hours before I go and see the newly shot film version of the short story, and I can confess, I’m scared!

But what about the rest of the book?  There are 19 other stories of varying lengths, and I have to say, after getting up the courage to read them after that first one, I was hooked. 

Marshall has a habit of leaving one wondering ‘what next?’ after each story. While most are complete, there is a sense that these stories are just moments or glimpses into other people’s lives. Some are like memoirs, others are like snatches of conversations. Throughout them all is an overarching sense of our flawed humanity – our lusts, envy, loves, and most often, our unrequited desires. 

There are a number of stories that are clearly based on a previous age in New Zealand when duty and conformity were hallowed concepts in our society. In some of those episodes, there is a lingering, mild oppression in the characters and a reminder that it is we ourselves who often put up barriers to our own happiness. 

My favourites passages are ones that are about principal emotions – Freezing for example is a very poignant story about coping with grief. Watch of Gryphons set in Italy has both joy and despair at its heart. 

Although many of these stories are set in other places around the world there is a very strong sense of ‘home’ and ‘family’ in them, and they serve as a reminder that we are all born, live lives of happiness and sadness, and then leave. That may seem a little bleak, and simplistic, but all of us are living our own story. Owen Marshall is simply reminding us of that fundamental truth. 

If you’d like to watch my review of the film Coming Home in the Dark, click here

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