Friday, June 6, 2008

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

Title: Down to a Sunless Sea---Short Stories
Author: Mathias B. Freese
ISBN: 9781587367335
Publisher: Wheatmark/2007
Pages: 134

Mathias B. Freese offered me this book for reviewing and I gladly accepted it. It is a collection of 15 stories and fairly a thin book. I wouldn't call it an easy read. One needs to concentrate while reading. The mind deviates and one has to go back.

The stories border on the dark side of human nature. The lonely, melancholic side of it. Not the violent. Freese worked as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist for 25 years and that comes through in those stories. One can see the empathy for the troubled human beings who are taken to be deviants. His understanding and compassion for those comes through very well in the stories. He is insightful and not preachy at all.

His story telling is matter of fact without being sentimental at all. Nowhere I felt it bordering on mushiness. Maybe that is one reason, I felt connected to a few of the characters. As I teach so-called lower class, I can somewhat empathise despite the cultural differences. His stories are meant to make us think. Beyond ourselves.

Down to a Sunless Sea, the title story is about Adam, who has been pampered initially by his mother and after she dies and his father remarries, is ignored by his step mother. His internal thoughts speak of confusion and finally acceptance. I' ll Make It, I Think is about a boy who is physically deformed and has names for each part of his body. As he does not have friends, his body parts are very much his real friends. He is not at all emotional about his loneliness. He just takes it as a part of his life. In fact, he is glad that nothing is going to change. Freese has made use of symbolism in both the stories and that made me think of Marquez for a while. In a way, here it is easier to understand unlike Marquez whose work churn out ones brains.

The Chatham Bear is interesting. Here the sighting of the bear is more interesting than what really goes on in the town. More violent happenings are taken to be part of life. An harmless bear is talk of the town. Diesn't it speak for the human mind which tends to brush aside the unpleasant thoughts out of his mind and concentrates on trivialities?

Another story which made an instant impact is Herbie, a boy who is taught to shine shoes by his abusive father. When he wants to take it as a profession, his father objects. He cannot understand why. In Alabaster, a young boy meets a mother and a daughter and finds that the older woman has a number on her arm. He does not know yet that he has met a holocaust victim. The older woman, despite suffering, sees hope in the boy's eyes. This particular story touched me.

Juan Peron's Hands is somewhat macabre. Those are cut off and at the end shown to be just something which are of no value, after being taken away from Peron. Is it not symbolic? This goes deeper than just a pair of hands. Just Errands is a story I could wholly relate. The narrater keeps on thinking if he posted the two letters he wrote when he is outside of his home. One can understand his almost paranoid feeling about it. Most of us have gone through such thoughts at one time or the other, about certain things. We keep asking ourselves, did we or did we not?

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Father Was a Nazi is one of the stories which is not dark. Infact it is a tongue in cheek account written in 1991, much before Arnold became famous. Nicholas is about a boy of the same name who has huge problem with his teacher. He is not afraid to answer back. He speaks his mind and walks out. In my line of teaching, I have met such students.

Not going into details of the other stories, which are equally thoughtful, I say that this book is a good read. The short stories hold interest despite being dark. The darkness depicted here is not despair. It is that we chose to set aside by our own ignorance. One gets a deeper understanding of those human beings which are virtually neglected by us. In a way, this book might make us take a lenient view towards those by making us thing of them. That is one good reason to read the short stories.

I am going to look out for his other book The i'Tetrology. Mathias B Freese is one author to watch out for. He truly gets insides his characters and brings those to us. I for one, am very glad I read this book. A must read for serious readers. However, for light readers, I would say stay away from it.

Down to a Sunless Sea won Allbooks Reviews Editor's Choice Awards and was an Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist.

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