D. Wystan Owen’s debut story collection, “Other People’s Love Affairs,” is a beautiful book. The loosely linked stories take us into the homes and heads of residents of Glass, an English coastal town in which the quiet, quotidian dramas of human life and love play out in deeply affecting ways.
Notions of absence and loneliness are central to these stories as characters struggle to make and maintain connections. Parents, siblings, lovers, friends — all are lost, suddenly or by degrees, by characters who are desperate to rebuild or replace these essential relationships.
Here, a man haunted by memories of a youthful affair of sorts, reflects on the death of his wife:
“She had died, Elsie had, on the third day of March. Winter hadn’t yet broken. Since then, he’d moved through the house in a dream, meals taken and as quickly forgotten, the garden half-heartedly raised. You got used to a person, in addition to love, used to the way they acted and spoke, to the sound of their laughter from the next room when something funny occurred on TV. For years she had taught piano lessons at home; now the instrument sat unused and ill tuned.”
Owen crafts lovely sentences, many of which unfurl in unexpected ways — which is to say, there is an idiosyncratic, empathetic voice present in each story that invites us to witness heartbreak and hope and the tentative bonds between the two. “Other People’s Love Affairs” is more than an exceptional debut; it is a masterful work by a writer in full possession of his many gifts.