Serious summary of Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese: Down to a Sunless Sea plunges the reader into uncomfortable situations and into the minds of troubled characters. Each selection is a different reading experience-poetic, journalistic, nostalgic, wryly humorous, and even macabre. An award-winning essayist and historical novelist, Mathias B. Freese brings the weight of his twenty-five years as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist into play as he demonstrates a vivid understanding of-and compassion toward-the deviant and damaged.
My two cents
OK bitsQuite unlike anything I have ever read. I felt like I was intruding into someone’s private thoughts, story after story, wading through thoughts that one would not normally reveal. Each story felt like it was told all from a first person point of view, stories that are begging to be told; and told sensitively and without shame nor condescension.
It gives a voice to the voiceless – the handicapped, the abused, the traumatized, and the tormented.
Some stories that really hit me were:
I’ll Make it, I Think
The story of a handicapped man who struggles to deal with what life hands him. His afflicted body parts – named Lon, his huge deformed foot; and Ralph, his webbed hand – play into story personified and are in on the game.
I often feel like a Slinky flopping down a stoop when I speak – life as a Slinky. The more edgy I get the worse it is. Ralph and Lon have nothing to do with Schmuck, that’s me. So that makes the three of us, at compass odds.
Sometimes only the young can truly show compassion. And it only through a life lived that the young truly understand how it is to live. I love this piece.
“Can I go now?” I was rude, but it was a feeling and I said it. I was safe with her, free.
“Of course, child. I can’t hold you to me. You are the freest thing I know.”
I left. I was uneasy with all I heard. I had never before had such a talk with an adult, as an equal.
Do you obsess about things? I do. Like whether I shut the fridge door properly and I go downstairs, after having gone through my nightly rituals, in the middle of night just to check, then doublecheck. This short story looks into the mind of an individual with OCD and the agony of dealing with these compulsions.
The horrible cycle of abuse and need for acceptance between a father and his son, highlighted through the son’s simple desire to shine shoes properly.
Oh the futility of life, a modern-day take of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.
I can’t be who I am in real life , so I can be who I am in thought, but who I am in thought is not who I am in deed, so I live between what is and what should be, and this serves to make sharper the cleavage – the crevices are clearly marked.
Boring bitsNothing. That is the beauty of short story collections, and I am sure that in the book at least one story is bound to speak to you.
Verdict: I must admit that I had a hard time initially getting into this book, which was so graciously sent to me for review by the author himself. I read it story by story over a 3-month period. I feel it is not a book to speed read, but to savor slowly, ruminate upon, and re-read. I highly recommend it. Please get a copy and read it!
***First line (of the first short story): While a young child growing up in Brighton Beach, Adam would go shopping with his mother on Brighton Beach Avenue.
The book in one sentence: Fifteen short stories that make you feel like you are prying into someone’s life, finding out their secret thoughts and feelings.
Who would you recommend it to: For those who like to understand people and themselves, and probably journal in detail about their own lives. Those who love to find a glimmer of meaning or understanding in what many may dismiss as trivial.
P.S. My sincere thanks to Mathias Freese for sending me his book, and yes, this review was long in the coming.