Monday, May 19, 2008

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

He saw himself dead upon rising in the morning. A box need not be ordered. It was built in.
[pg 92)

Down to a Sunless Sea
by Mathias B. Freese
Wheatmark, 2007
Fiction (ss); 134 pgs

Just over a month ago I came across a review of this book by Heather at Errant Dreams Reviews and knew I wanted to read Mathias B. Freese’s short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea. I had already placed the book in my shopping cart at when I received an e-mail from the author offering a copy of his book if I would review it on my blog. Now that I’ve said that he’s probably wishing he had waited a little longer before contacting me.

What drew me to this particular book was the description of it as a book that “plunges the reader into uncomfortable situations and into the minds of troubled characters.” That and the fact that the author is a social worker. The description on the back cover is true to its word; the stories are in fact ones that offer glimpses into the human condition and are at times disturbing, each one shining a light on someone’s life, revealing truths that many of us can relate to on some level—even if we do not want to admit it.

The story that most struck a personal chord with me was “Billy’s Mirrored Wall” about a boy growing up, at first indifferent to the class difference between he and his friend, Billy, as they play ball and have fun together. Later in life, perhaps in part because of his mother’s own insecurities, such differences became more obvious. I think back to my own childhood and being a part of a lower middle class family with our second hand clothes and toys while my playmates had all the latest toys and wore name brand clothing. At the time it didn’t bother me, however, it did bother my parents, who could not help but compare themselves to our neighbors, wishing they could give my brother and me more than they were able. It wasn’t until I was older that I had a better understanding of how my parents viewed the situation. To children it did not matter so much but to adults it made a world of difference.

Another of my favorite stories was “Alabaster.” I happened to be reading this particular story during my lunch break at work, which was probably not the best place to be at the time. The story touched me deeply, and I had to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. A holocaust survivor reaches out to a nine-year old boy. Their meeting is brief and while the boy does not quite understand what the moment meant for the older woman, he does know it was somehow significant for both of them.

Each of the fifteen stories in Down to a Sunless Sea take the reader into the hearts and minds of the characters, each one a case study, each one unique. Nicholas does not think much of school while Adam struggles against his fears. There is the frustrated and angry boy who just wants to be normal as well as a man who has trouble committing. The reader enters the mind of a dying man and walks in the shoes of a man suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The author touches on topics such as fear, apathy, hate, and frustration. While each of the characters the author writes about is wrapped up in their own lives, the characters in the periphery play just as important a role. We are influenced by our friends, children and parents as well as by our experiences. Such influences can affect the direction our lives take and the decisions we make. This comes across in nearly every story.

Mathias B. Freese writes beautifully. His wry sense of humor comes through in his writing, but this is not a funny book. The author deftly captures the raw emotion that flows from the pages, and I could not help but to empathize with the characters, . It is complex and haunting, just as it should be.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about the author by visiting his blog.

Read what others had to say about this book:
Bold. Blue. Adventure
Book Chase
Bookfoolery and Babble
Errant Dreams Reviews
J. Kaye's Book Blog
Kay's Bookshelf
Melody's Reading Corner
My Own Little Reading Room
Puss Reboots
Tip of the Iceberg


  1. This sounds like a very interesting book! That first line is a humdinger and definitely catches a reader's attention!

  2. Gah! I guess I should've snapped this one up when I had the chance! I wasn't in the mood for short stories at the time and didn't think I'd get around to it in a timely manner.

  3. It's been awhile since I've read any short stories. This one sounds like it would be a good choice.

    I read the title and ever since then I can't get the Xanadu poem out of my head. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measurelss to man down to a sunless sea ..." Happen to know if the author meant to make that connection?

  4. That sounds really amazing, Wendy. I'm putting this one on hold immediately. Thanks for the review.

  5. I'm not usually much for short stories, but this book might be worth checking into. The title is a reference to "Kublai Khan" by Coleridge, isn't it? Does the poem factor into any of the stories? Oh, I just noticed that Terri B. already asked that! (I'm not much for poetry either, but that literature-class standard has stuck with me for some reason :-)).

    Thanks for an enlightening review, Wendy!

  6. I'm in the same boat as Andi. But it's not too late to buy myself a copy. It really does sound like a wonderful book.

  7. This book just sounds like my cup of tea! I'll have to add it to my wishlist.

  8. April - I cheated and used a quote from later on in the book. It was one that especially caught my eye.

    Andi - That has happened to me before too; I passed on a book I wish now I'd read. Sometimes the timing just isn't right though. I hope you do get a chance to read it.

    Terri B - I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the Xanadu poem. Now that you mention it though, I wonder if that is where the title came from . . .

    Kookie - I look forward to hearing what you think of it when you do read it!

    Florinda - I wish I knew the answer to your question. I'll have to look up the poem and read it to get a better idea of what you and Terri are referring to.

    Nymeth - It's never too late to buy a copy! Well, unless a book goes out of print, which this one hasn't. I hate it when books go out of print before I have a chance to get my hands on a copy . . .

    Melody - I hope you will like it if you give it a try!

    Pussreboots - I added your link to my review and thanks for adding mine to yours.

  9. i'd like to thank you for your review and to answer a few of the comments. The title is from Coleridge and my characters "live" in a sunless sea.
    for those who seek more information go to, for it reeks with blogs and one story from the book ("Juan Peron's Hands).My major work is The i Tetralogy which you can google, a historical fiction about the Holocaust which has garner raves worldwide. It is a sleeper.
    thank you all
    Matt Freese

  10. I know I replied to this the other day but I guess it didn't go through! I really like the way this sounds so I'm going to suggest that my library order it at the next club meeting. Great find!

  11. This book sounds fabulous, Wendy, and I was laughing through that first paragraph. Oops, if the author had just waited a tiny bit longer . . .

    I love short stories, so I'll chunk this one on the never-ending wish list. Thanks!

  12. I'm so very glad you enjoyed the book, particularly since it was my review that sent you off looking for it! It really touched me, and I'm glad it did the same for you.

  13. Hello! That sounds really good, I will be making a book purchase this evening! I have not read anything for a while and am dying to get back into a good book. We have a bank holiday this weekend and I have taken an extra day off work so I can get 4 days of reading in....cannot wait!

    I hope you are really well, bye for now!!

  14. It sounds like a powerful book. I like short stories myself and feel they can be quite enriching. Thanks for the review!

  15. Matt - Thank you for stopping by!

    Jen - I hope you will be able to add it to the library's collection!

    Nancy - I hope you will like it if you get to it. If I had bought it myself, I would have added it to my never-ending TBR collection, and it probably would still be there. Not for lack of interest, but because so many other books are in line before it. So, this worked out well, I think. :-)

    Heather - Thank you for recommending it! It really was a moving book and I probably wouldn't have even known about it had it not been for you.

    Dancin' Fool - Four days of reading sounds so nice! I'm thinking of devoting most of my upcoming four day weekend to reading too, but I have some must-do errands to run, which may delay that.

    Jaimie - These short stories were certainly enriching!

  16. I've never heard of this book or this author, but it sounds interesting. I've been on a short story kick lately, so I'll have to give this one a try. Thanks for your review.

  17. This one is in the TBR stack; glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  18. I feel so glad that I read this book. I linked your review to mine!

    Here is my Review!

  19. I finally got around to reading this collection! I've included a link to your review on my review post today.

  20. Hi, Terri! I'm headed over to read your review now. I added a link to your review here. :-)


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