Down to a Sunless Sea

~by Mathias B. Freese

Down to a Sunless Sea is another one of those books I probably wouldn't have come across except that I was offered a copy to review. I didn't know much about the book except that it was a collection of short stories about troubled people written by Mathias B. Freese, who is a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist in addition to being an author. Down to a Sunless Sea was apparently a finalist for a 2008 Indie Excellence Book Award in addition to receiving an Allbooks Reviews Editor's Choice Award. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with either honor. So, I accepted the book, not really knowing what I was getting into, but I am glad that I did.

Down to a Sunless Sea consists of fifteen short stories. Nine were previously published between the years 1974 and 2007, one ("Unanswerable") being an excerpt from Freese's historical novel The i Tetralogy. The other six stories make their publishing debut in this 2007 collection. Each story focuses on a person, portraying the interactions between society and self. Although overall the collection is somewhat dreary--the Holocaust is often used as a touchstone, for example--there are some very beautiful moments as well.

Despite the fact that the cover of the book declares the contents to be "short stories," for the most part I think it would be more accurate to call them character sketches. Even when there is a significant plot, Freese focuses more on the people rather than on the action. The stories tend to depict the darker aspects of human nature, but they are not approached without a sense of hope, compassion, and understanding. The writing is superb and the style is different from piece to piece, exhibiting Freese's skill and command of the English language.

The portrayals of the characters are exceedingly intelligent and relentless--Down to a Sunless Sea packs quite a punch for such a slim volume. I could see bits and pieces of myself throughout the book and so while I didn't always completely understand, I did feel a connection with these broken people. It certainly doesn't make for easy or light reading, in fact it's rather serious and even disconcerting, but it is very potent and very good.

Stories include: "Down to a Sunless Sea"; "I'll Make It, I Think"; "The Chatham Bear"; "Herbie"; "Alabaster"; "Juan Peron's Hands"; "Little Errands"; "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Father Was a Nazi"; "Echo"; "Young Man"; "Nicholas"; "Billy's Mirrored Wall"; "Unanswerable"; "For a While Here in This Moment"; and "Mortise and Tenon."

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