Review: Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

According to his bio, “Mathias B. Freese brings the weight of his twenty-five years of experience as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist into play as he demonstrates a vivid understand of – and compassion toward – the deviant and the damaged.” I’ve read since that he wrote about half of these stories before he began his career, but the stories are flavored with his interest in psychology.

The book has some real bright spots. My favorite story was “Little Errands”: the narrator has a compulsive disorder and the story is basically 4 pages of panic. Did she mail the letters, did they make it from the mail tray into the mail box, will the mailman pick them up, were there stamps on them…it made my skin crawl a little as I tried to imagine every little errand turning into this sort of enormous production. (I found it interesting, on a personal level, that I assumed the narrator to be a woman; looking back, the story doesn’t indicate a name or gender.) I also found “I’ll Make It, I Think” and “Herbie” very moving. The first is a story about a handicapped man and how he has dealt with his disabilities, naming his uncooperative body parts and dealing with his bitterness. I found “Herbie” terribly sad, a son being crushed by his father, even as his father tries to toughen him up.

The book also has dim spots. It’s small – barely 100 pages – and many of the stories felt condensed and abbreviated. I found the language and phrases awkward and unattractive. I would find myself re-reading passages trying to parse their meaning. Even the stories I found moving were not truly pleasant reading; I was too often brought up short by a convoluted passage that conveyed its meaning with great difficulty, if at all.

I have The i Tetralaogy on my shelf, a gift from a generous blogger, and I am curious to see what Mr. Freese does in a longer format. My copy of Down to a Sunless Sea was an ARC; purchase your copy at

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