The Centrifugal Eye
August 2008 - Review: Freese
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Down to a Sunless Sea
by Mathias B. Freese, 2007

610 East Delano Street, Suite 104
Tucson, Arizona 85705
Paper / 134 pgs. / $13.95 US

OUT-look: a review
Ocalive Olaopa Mwenda

                            Absence of Light: Quirks of Dark
                          A review of Mathias B. Freese’s Down to a Sunless Sea

        I’m a neatness freak. Not only that, I worry over little tasks being done right. Or getting completed at all. Especially just as I’m going to bed for the night. Did I remember to turn off the burner after moving the kettle over? Did I lock the front door after returning from running the bills down to the mail drop? If I don’t throw on a robe and go double-check, I’ll never get to sleep, what with the nagging going on inside my head.

        Millions of people (2.5 percent prevalence in groups studied) suffer from similar anxieties, night and day, classified by many mental health professionals as exhibiting symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Knowing these statistics and sometimes hearing about someone else’s quirky obsessions diffuses my self-criticisms. Which is why I found great delight in reading Mathias B. Freese’s short story, “Little Errands,” from his collection, Down to a Sunless Sea. How could I not feel vindicated for my moderate disquiet when reading the following descriptive passage?

“Doing it over and over is stultifying but necessary, and I feel sure once and for all that I have done it right. It all reminds me of the minutes I spend in my car turning on and off the radio, waiting for the click, holding the knob tightly as if to record the registration of the final click, that it is off, that I can leave the car and not discover a dead battery on the morning after.”

        In Freese’s “Little Errands,” the main character mails off two bill payments, and then broods over whether the envelopes have survived the mailbox chute (or if he actually even mailed them). Having, myself, developed the similar habit of always checking the mail-drop slot twice, reading about this character’s worry brought both amusement and relief for my suspicion that I might be alone in this conduct. No, I am not alone in this, and I further suspect there are many more of us who check to make sure our outgoing letters aren’t pinched in the mailbox’s door-hinge.

        I’m told by Eve Hanninen, The Centrifugal Eye’s editor and publisher, that TCE doesn’t normally review short stories. But in this case, she gave me the go-ahead after reading Freese’s Down to a Sunless Sea first, and then passed it along to me. I’m pleased she did. Freese’s stories are insightful studies in human behavior, dark little narratives often written with poetic fretfulness.

        The tales in this collection all start off mid-action and most never really end. Instead, the tales cease to continue at some random point — sometimes with a revelation or earned understanding just where the reader might expect, but other times not. This is perhaps the least satisfying experience in absorbing the sunless landscape of troubled personalities. Yet, it surely shadows the reality of human behaviors, which rarely resolve neatly.

        While I enjoyed all of the stories, there were another two in particular that I resonated with, and so “took to bed” with me for further analysis — part of my nightly mental spin before sinking into dreams.

        One was “Alabaster,” a dispiriting conversation between a young boy and an old Polish woman, in which she reaches out to him with hopes of connecting through that part of her that remains a broken child. The other is “Echo,” another relationship of disconnects. In the latter, Jonathan is a character that has difficulties bonding with family and friends. He never pursues relationships, but instead allows all cultivation of socializing to come from outside himself. And still remains unmoved.

        The characters in Mathias B. Freese’s book, Down to a Sunless Sea, may seem odd on the surface, but all of them are truly just reflections of real people. Some eerily similar to folks I happen to know. No, the stories about these people don’t really end; they contain integral facets of human existence, interaction, emotions, and often pose ambiguous questions. We must remember to regard these people as more than odd characters, otherwise, “it only takes a minor adjustment here or there before the living are viewed as inanimate, subhuman,” says the boy in Freese’s “Unanswerable.”

"Night Owl" - D.J. Bryant 2008

Ocalive Olaopa Mwenda makes her home in Oregon with her two irascible tabbies (and an even more cantankerous husband) and pushes words around as often as possible. Sometimes they push back. She's a commercial technical writer, copy editor and fledgling poet, with dreams of selling her first fantasy novel in the near future. She is a semi-regular staff reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye.

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“A throng of foolish marionettes perched on the lip of the ocean-chasm; unseeing, unwilling to see what lay above them and about, in the multitudinous grandeur of the stars and the leagues of the night ocean.”

                                                                                    ~R.H. Barlow and H.P. Lovecraft, from The Night Ocean


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