September 06, 2008

Review: Down to a Sunless Sea

Down to a Sunless Sea
by Mathias Freese

I am not sure what to think after finishing this award winning collection of short stories. They are "case studies" of physically and mentally broken people. The author uses his background as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist to get into the minds of each of his characters. (edited: Here's an interesting fact the author shared with me: he wrote half of the stories before he was a shrink.) Some of the stories are clear and others are enigmatic. They range in emotion from regretful to frustrating, angry to morose. Though we would and do normally laugh at some of the situations presented, the reader feels that laughing would be highly inappropriate. There is nothing humorous about the damaged mental health of these people. They feel like real people struggling with real issues that they may never be able to overcome. A man with Cerebral Palsy suffering from natural urges, an old woman lamenting the loss of her youth to Auschwitz, a boy traumatised by his father's callous sink or swim technique of teaching him about life, a man too absorbed in himself to form any lasting relationships. You could easily run into these people on the street. You could secretly be one of these people.

One of the things I struggled with while reading was a sense that it was way above my level of understanding. If I had had a dictionary handy I would have consulted it frequently. And several times I wanted to ask the author what was going on. Someone with a history in the mental health community might pick right up on the various dysfunctions but I was at a loss a couple of times. The author's intellect, education and experience are far beyond my own. While I am not sure of my feelings for this work I can recommend it as a well written example of character driven and "less is more" writing. If you love people, especially those in need of compassion, you may be interested in reading Down to a Sunless Sea. It will give you a deeper understanding of how they think and why they act the way they do.

Check out this Allbook review. Then head over to the author's blog.

Buy this book on Amazon.

4 comments:

Charley said...

This is not a book I'll race out to read, but it sounds very interesting.

Jeane said...

Wow. I've seen several reviews of this book before, but none mentioned the mental health aspect of it all. I wonder why.

mathias b. freese said...

dear readers:
i wrote at least half of these stories before training as a psychotherapist; what are we to conclude? that Freud's (allow me my grandiosity) case studies read like literature and my "case studies" read like, well, case studies? Wrong! A writer,regardless of his occupation, writes because of who he is. next time, the blurb will be scoured free of background material. hopefully, dear readers, you will read the book without any regard for my comet tail.
kind regards, all
matt freese

Carrie K said...

Oh rats. I hate it when I know that the author is an actual human being. (Don't ask me why that surprises me).

I probably wouldn't read this book but it's more because among my friends and family there are numerous physical and psychological problems and no one ever quite writes about it "correctly". (Undoubtedly because no one is identical) but it still reads "wrong" to me.