The older I get, the more I appreciate the short story format (and no, not just because my attention span is waning, smarty-pants). Not only do I enjoy being able to read a story here and a story there, but I've also come to appreciate the difficulty of writing the short story. It is, in my considered opinion, one of the trickiest genres out there.
One of the of authors who have mastered this art form is Mathias B. Freese. Down to a Sunless Sea is a treasure-trove of fifteen short stories in which Freese captures verbal snapshots within the human brain. In other words, he explores what makes people tick. As a psychotherapist and teacher, the author commands extraordinary insight into the mind. But so do a thousand others in his field. So what makes Down to a Sunless Sea so impressive? It's simple: Freese's ability to present each errant character in an understandable light.
My favorites? Since you ask:
"Little Errands" takes only four pages to perfectly convey what it's like to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (I know, I know, I ramble on about my book OCD all the time, but this is the real thing.) This poignant vignette takes one small incident -- the mailing of a letter -- and manages to convey the scope of living with the disorder without condecesncion.
In 1987, the tomb of former Argentine President Juan Peron was broken into and the hands removed from the corpse (they were ransomed for $8 million, in case you're wondering why someone would steal a dead person's hands). In "Juan Peron's Hands," Freese delves into the (just a little bit creepy) minds of the graverobber.
Two unclenched hands in a back street, no self, no name, no one, a reminder of us all. Two hands against a Magritte sky.
"Juan Peron's Hands," by Mathias B. Freese
Creepy the story may be, but prose like this is certainly beautiful to read.
"Alabaster" is the touching story of an elderly Polish concentration camp survivor who befriends a young boy. The boy, of course, knows nothing of the evil perpetuated during the War. His innocence, however, lies in stark contrast to the irreperable damage done to the old woman in the camps. The story is a haunting snapshot of a destroyed life. The woman survived, but at what cost to the psyche?
"Billy's Mirrored Wall" was perhaps the most resonant story in the collection. A man reflects on the importance of a seemingly innocuous event in his childhood. Coming from a solid blue-collar background, he remembers being vaguely impressed (in a twelve-year-old-boy, off-hand sort of way) after being invited over to a upper-middle class friend's home. The modern dishwasher, carpet instead of linoleum, but especially a wall covered in mirrors were all things he was unused to seeing in a home.
Boys being boys (even in the 1950's), his interest was passing at best. Just enough to mention it off-handedly to his own mother who, to his surprise, took great umbrage to the entire event. Her hurt at not being able to provide her own son with such minor luxuries morphs into anger and while the matter is quickly dropped, it is an event that her son never forgets. In fact, it incorporates itself into his adult life-view.
What Ma has done is to put something into me of her own design, unwillingly, and here I am left to master it, or make sense of it - really to metabolize it.
"Billy's Mirrored Wall," by Mathias B. Freese
The story begs the question of any parent: how much do we unwittingly damage our children in such passing moments?
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories and Down to a Sunless Sea has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf. But don't take my word for it. In 2008 this collection was honored with the Allbooks Reviews Editor's Choice for Short Story Award and was a 2008 Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist for Short Story Fiction.
An interview with the author at Pif Magazine.
Title: Down to a Sunless Sea
Author: Mathias B. Freese
Date: November 15, 2007
Other Reviews in BlogLand:
Bold. Blue. Adventure.
Rather Be Reading
Blog Critics Magazine
A Progressive on the Prairie
Devourer of Books
Dog Ear Diary
Bibliophile Support Group
Tip of the Iceberg
Back to Books
The Literary Word