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05 June, 2008
Book Review: Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese
Read and Reviewed for Front Street Reviews.
Down to a Sunless Sea is a collection of fifteen short stories written by Mathias B. Freese. I have mixed feelings about this slim book. On one hand, there are a few gems in the collection. Then on the other hand, there are others that just seem to fall short of the mark. It took me a longer time than I usually take to commit myself to reading this book.
The author, uses his experiences and observations gained from twenty-five years as a clinical social worker and psychologist in crafting his stories. Most of them, are rather dark, keeping with the author’s dark view of humanity (something he has readily admitted to having). However, a few of the stories show both humor and a moving look at how we view life. In the introduction, Down to a Sunless Sea is promoted as “plunging the reader into uncomfortable situations and into the minds of troubled characters.” This is a very apt statement, but in my opinion a few of the stories just seemed abrupt, and the characters not given as much of an opportunity to establish themselves as they could. The stories, written over a thirty-year time frame delve deeply into the human psyche, and are excellently written if a bit raw and packed with emotion.
I found the story “Alabaster” to be one of most moving of the collection. This story introduces an old Polish woman and her daughter. The mother, a survivor of the Holocaust and her devoted daughter live in the neighborhood, but do not easily interact with their neighbors. They sit together, and alone, until their lives are brightened briefly by a small boy who is too young to know of the tragedy that they had lived through. He, after hearing from the old woman of her experiences during WWII, reads the tattoo she still carries out loud, wondering who 7859912 was. A person, the old woman can not tell him was herself as others had seen her, an undesirable, and not the alabaster armed young girl she once was.
The other stories I found enjoyable in the collection were:
“Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Father was a Nazi”
“Mortise and Tenon”