ISBN: 978-1-58736-733-5 (Review copy)
When a clinical social worker and psychotherapist with 25 years experience contacts you to ask whether you’d be interested in reading his anthology of stories full of uncomfortable stories and troubled minds, the answer is yes, particularly if you’re addicted to dark, angst-ridden tales like myself.
Freese remains deeply horrified by the Holocaust and determined not to let mankind become indifferent. His novel The I Tetrology is written from the viewpoint of a Nazi officer. Freese – a Jew – entering both courageous and dangerous waters here. In his own words “It is a book written from pain, despair and sorrow. I wrote a book that few people would want to read because they would rather not know. ” I know enough to realise that there’s detail in it that I have no wish to revisit. There is an excerpt in Down to A Sunless Sea – the story – Unforgettable – which offers as fine a secular rationale for the horrors of the Holocaust that I’m ever likely to read.
Fascists and Holocaust survivors appear in this collection also, although not all of the stories worked for me – some were just too short and I didn’t have time to absorb the nuance and mood. (I am a fledgling short story reader after all.)
The stories which break away from the Nazi past are very fine indeed. Freese drops his characters into extreme situations of varied kinds and chronicles their psychologies at times bluntly, at others with finesse. The young adult male in “I’ll make it, I think” struggling to come to terms with a lifelong disability. The writing tense and the emotions raw. At times screaming, swearing, railing against the cards that have been dealt. At others trying to come to terms via warped humour.
I’m like a distorted X. Everything on my right arm is thin and bony, but my left arm and hand are powerful, very powerful, stronger than most, and noone fools around with me because I’ve damaged people real good with that hand. I even gave my cousin Nate a bloody nose. I was nine years younger than him – caught him by surprise, really rocked him good. It became a family joke: ha … ha.
My favourite story however, is that of Herbie, a school boy who wishes to make some money by opening a shoe-shine stand with his pal. His father, however, sees this as an affront to his ability to provide for his family and the power struggle that erupts from a standing start around the family dinner table leaves me squirming at the poor boy’s bewilderment and pain.
I did say this was a book full of uncomfortable situations and troubled minds, didn’t I? Not a cozy read by any means and a little patchy in places. As a collection I would award it which feels crazy. How can anything this dark be enjoyable? But I must say that the two stories mentioned above are all kinds of outstanding.
A sampler can be found on Mattias B Freese’s blog: Don Peron’s Hands