Friday, April 11, 2008

REVIEW: 'Down to the Sunless Sea' by Mathias B. Freese

Title: Down to the Sunless Sea
Author: Mathias B. Freese
Price: $ 11.86
Genre: Literature/Fiction Short Stories
ISBN: 978-1587367335
Publisher: Wheatmark
Point of Sale: Amazon

Deviant and Damaged … yes, that pretty much says it all with this book of short stories, each an outpouring of bile from the human sewer. I am not being harsh here either. Fact of the matter is, the characters in these stories have lost compassion for themselves. They leave themselves to rot and obsessively desecrate their own souls. Some of it almost reminds me of the disquieted musings of Pessoa, and some, the lamenting Philosophies of Nietzsche.

Here we have a cast of characters reflecting upon and deconstructing the lack of normality in their lives: abusive and psychologically tainted family members, deformity and disability, the confrontation of one’s mortality, and polluted self-esteem—yet all the characters are fighting to survive themselves. If you are a big fan of self-examination, self-deprecation, and self-flagellation, and like your reading material on the darker side, then this book is quite a good read. There is no closure, no happy endings … and that is real life for these very non-fictional souls. In this book, we cannot escape or ignore that fact.

The stories are written in different voices and tones, some from an almost clinical detached external view, some from a surrealistic stream of consciousness view, and some from a wounded internal one. Personally, I like the first person wounded internal ones the best, which, to me, allows a more personal connection with the character. The style is matter of fact in most cases, serious, with levity injected at the just right moment to lighten the load. Yes … you will be shocked and appalled not only by the subject matter but also by the macabre themes, not to mention the smattering of self-righteous sarcasm, and you might even find yourself laughing at times – and you will feel guilty about it.

Excerpt From: I’ll Make it I Think:

“I was born like this and I’m not a freak. I mean, I got God’s good dose of CP, bless him, but this doesn’t stop me from feeling every now and then that I’ll be a freak for most of my goddam life. Man, you should see me run, like a seesaw coming at you, clanging up and down, a crippled mother Fokker machine gunning at you while going down in flames. When I do date—and that ain’t often—I don’t date a girl who is crippled like me, although she’s often a loser of one kind or another, a prossie, something like that. I ain’t no snob, I just know I can do better for me, that’s all. Like I said, the girls I do date are losers. Inside, I’m better. I’m me, untwisted, normal. Outside, well, that’s something else. No use in changing people’s minds. What you see is what you get—the world eats this up.

I’m not that crippled I can’t do better for myself. My folks say I can’t go out with normal girls (“They won’t have you”): classic— as if their snatch is any different—that I should get it through my thick skull (they’re loving parents) that they won’t date me. They go on to talk about “reality.” What the fuck do they know about reality! Try jerking off using Ralph for help and Lon for support. God, in his infinite mercy, made me left-handed. And they’re right—my folks—well, in a way right, in a way wrong. I really can’t dance because of my leg, and my webbed fingers come together like a flipper so that I can’t grasp a girl’s hand, unless she’s into frog.”

That particular story is about a deformed young man who struggles with being a freak on the outside. Struggles so much that the inside has become damaged to the point that he takes up voyeurism in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. But more importantly, the fable in this story struck me: the allegorical porter and metaphorical garbage cans and refuse. Must be why this one is my favourite. Anyway, this is the sort of candid view we get with this book. A short forward will help the reader understand the author’s motivations and expertise on the subject matter. I, however, did not read the forward first, as I like to judge stories on their own merit without the author’s or anyone else’s explanations clouding my interpretation.

Mr. Freese’s characterizations are convincing, as they should be, and the stories are relatable at a base human existence level that most are afraid to confront. My only complaint is that some of the stories, (I use that term loosely as many are really existential and philosophical musings) not all but some, feel a bit like case studies—clinically detached essays, maybe a bit too detached for me, as we get told everything we need to know, and we don’t really get to experience a full manifestation of their individual pathologies, like you do in say Bataille’s “Story of the Eye or My Mother”, which explore similar subject matter. Many of the stories are overtly subtle in their message, requiring a bit of contemplation from the reader, some are blatantly extreme, and some, the short format might not allow for enough texture to fully appreciate the psychological depth, its cause and effect. So, individual reader interpretation and reception will vary greatly.

It’s difficult to write about this subject matter at best, using imagery to portray deep psychological realism is even more difficult … a sense of detachment can be a lifeline, and even though the lifeline is apparent here, I have to applaud this author for going down a road very few attempt to negotiate. Mr. Freese does it with intellectual elegance and subtlety, with wit, and with candour. The prose is often poetic, and on occasion, disarmingly innocent and charming. All of the stories are thought-provoking and a bit haunting, not necessarily in what they say or how they say it, which is always eloquent, but often in what is not said. As far as personal favourites go, mine are: “I’ll make it I Think”, “For a While, Here, In This Moment”, and “Young Man”

Some might find the subject matter challenging and/or offensive, so be warned, this is not a light read.


Reviewed by Cheryl: Cheryl Anne Gardner is a retired writer of dark, often disturbing, literary novellas with romantic/erotic undertones. She is an avid reader and an independent reviewer with Podpeople blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA.


mathias freese said...

dear cheryl anne gardner
an intense review for an intense book. thank you. to sample a bit more about me, google: The i tetralogy, a historical fiction on the Holocaust.
Kind regards,
Matt freese

Carol Lawrence said...

Short stories about seriously flawed characters,sounds like a good read.