‘The Man in the Shed’ by Lloyd Jones

* Picked by Wayne Connolly

‘The Man in the Shed’ is the story of a summer, a beach, a family and the disruptive presence of a visitor who takes up residence in their garden shed. 

On the edge of a small coastal town in New Zealand, the beach is an escape but it’s a squalid liminal space, where kelp gets washed up after storms, and beer cans, fag ends and used condoms gather near the sea wall; where the caravan park smells of hot plastic and dog shit; where fish feed in frenzy when the meat factory discharges into the water of the estuary.

The beach is where people try to escape each other, even when they are together. It’s where adults go when they want to have a serious talk, but little gets discussed. Everyone gazes in different directions, looking for different things. The only searing moment of intimacy in the story is when the father of the young narrator reels in his wife, who has been hooked by a fisherman surf casting while she swims offshore. She arches her back like a fish as he removes the hook embedded in her shoulder.

This is a parched story in which terrible things happen, but are barely acknowledged and even less understood by its characters – like the mysterious figure of the man in the shed, who may or may not be responsible for any of them.

The Man in the Shed is a great introduction to the writing of New Zealander Lloyd Jones. He is best known in the UK for his Booker short-listed novel Mr Pip, but his short stories and other novels are all worth seeking out. Just wait for the sun to shine and be careful where you are walking on the sand …

Collected in The Man in the Shed, Penguin Books New Zealand, 2009

Wayne Connolly’s first chapbook of short stories, Intensive Care, is published by Hickathrift Press. He was long listed for the Galley Beggar Press short story prize in 2022