Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Down to a Sunless Sea" by Mathias B. Freese

Author: Mathias B. Freese
Title: "Down to a Sunless Sea"
Pages: 134
Publisher: Wheatmark

This this post will a little bit different from what you would usually expect as the novel featured is a short story anthology, which has nothing to do with fantasy or sci-fi as it literary fiction. I usually rarely happen to grab anything in the genre, due to my still forming view of life and still developing tastes. However when asked I can't refuse, it's one good book more.

“Down to a Sunless Sea” by Mathias B. Freese is one of those short novels that you would normally think are simply another short bunch of pages, which once you have read can boast about reading literary fiction. However experience has taught me that the shortest novels are usually the hardest to finish; the ones that leave the deepest impressions; the ones shrouded in enough mystery to leave you thinking. “Down to a Sunless Sea” is an anthology of this caliber.

With 15 short stories this book barely gathers any weight with its 134 pages and yet I had the hardest time finishing. The complex of intertwining motives going deep down in the human psyche, further than I can say I have knowledge of. By being requested to review this book I think I have been given a far greater responsibility than I could have imagined as I myself couldn’t really grasp the full scope of Freese’s stories. In its essence each story digs down in the corpse of the human mind, the rotting part of unhappiness, isolation and wickedness we burry deep down inside and hope that nobody notices the foul stench, which emanates from within. Because each and one of us no matter how much we smile, laugh and joke are hollow, cold and damaged one way or another; shut out from human affection; broken by social reality or twisted and dehumanized by another human.

Mathias B. Freese illuminates these aspects, which nobody wants to see, through a wide spectrum of characters of different ages and social status. Although not gender diverse with a stronger presence of the male psyche, the reader is offered the insight about the world through the eyes of children, youths and grown men.

As the age varies, the style frequently changes from the elegant and eloquent narrative such as in “Down to a Sunless Sea”, the titling short story about growing up in a dysfunctional American family and the effects it had on the story teller’s mind. Then we have the linguistic primitivism devout of grammar and spelling in “Nicholas”, where the narrator argues about the value of achieving academic heights, when the world is made for those, who can live by the labor they do with their hands.

Drama is the core of each tale; the atmosphere soaked with melancholy and desperation; the scent of decay and slow death emanate from each spirit. From the tragic life of a crippled and disfigured young man, who has named his disfigured leg Lon, his arm Ralph, his penis David and his stuttering self Shmuck, in “I’ll make it, I think”; to the mental deformity of the narrator in “Juan Peron’s Hands”, who cut off the hands of a buried mobster, we meet outcasts.

If I am to fully explain the gravity laid in the core in each and every story, O would most certainly have to write a book perhaps even longer than the anthology actually. It is an experience a reader should experience alone and intimately; hidden and yet undressed from all pretence; soul to pages.

However I want to provide some quotes from the stories that really left an impact on me.

“How can you ever frighten anyone, Mama?”
“Sometimes, child, I feel that I am living someone else’s life.”

(From “Alabaster”, the musings of an old woman survived the second war as a survivor from a concentration camp.)

“Why did you call me shit?”
“You ruined my pants.”
If he could only bite him again, draw blood, he mused, looking at his father’s other leg…

(From “Herbie”, the meltdown of a young boy, mistreated by his father, whose life is devout of kindness and is compared to shit.)

He had promised to teach me. He reneged cruelly on that. Sink or swim.
Or die as we will see.
What was even more devastating was that he did not come after me.
One would imagine a father would retrieve his child. He did not.

(From “Unanswerable” a somewhat philosophical narrative about the human nature and habits of dehumanizing each other, developed on the base of a child hood memory.)

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