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Down to a Sunless Sea

by Mathias B. Freese

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4918392,069 (3.54)6
"Movieola is a collection of linked short stories that delights and exploits the language and paraphernalia of industrial Hollywood. The collection delves into a night at the movies, featuring all the familiar types-the rom-com, the action-adventure, the superhero and the spy-but the narratives are still under construction, and every story line is an opportunity for the unimaginable twist. Motive and identity are constantly shifting in these short stories that offer both narrative and anti-narrative, while the stunted shoptalk of the movie business struggles to keep up. With the wit of Steve Erickson's Zeroville and the inventive spirit of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, John Domini offers a collection at once comical and moving, carefully suspended between a game of language and a celebration of American film. "--… (more)

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Movieola! by John Domini


Reading John Domini’s work, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, you get the feeling you’re in the presence of someone a little smarter than you, someone who understands life and literature a little bit better. Having sped through Domini’s latest, a collection of short fiction entitled Movieola!, I can add cinema to the list of Domini’s areas of expertise—and thank him for shedding new light (and a few welcome shadows) on a form I love.

Cast in the tradition of masters like Barth and Coover, the loosely linked cinematic tales contained in Movieola! showcase the development of the metafictional form, an overall arc that has classic experiments such as John Barth’s masterful short story collection, Lost in the Funhouse, at one end, the now-fairly-common, fully-integrated intrusive narrator at the other. Movieola! rests near the midpoint of this continuum, a point from which Domini is able to provide both sly critique and dramatic effect.

Its overall conceit a subversion of the usual novel to film progression, Movieola! is film become literature. Never what you expect, the book expands on its intellectual heft with titillation (“Blinded by Paparazzi” and “Wrap Rap Two-Step”) and prose that recalls Nabokov at his Americanized best, Domini’s words at times practically tap dancing and somersaulting across the page. Held together by the bonds of cinema, threads at once gossamer and steely, nuanced and blatant, Domini’s success is in mingling the inner workings of Hollywood with the craft of filmmaking, creating for us a parallel universe in which we experience cinema as art and industry, question and answer.

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/kbaumeister/2016/08/the-nervous-breakdowns-re...
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  kurtbaumeister | Oct 24, 2017 |
Mathias Freese kindly sent me Down To a Sunless Sea to review a while ago. It’s a collection of fifteen short stories, covering a number of difficult topics and I found it quite painful to read. I don’t know if I can really do justice to these stories. Mathias Freese has worked as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist for 25 years and these stories are full of dark and dangerous situations.

First of all I like the title – taken from Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan, inspired by an opium induced dream. But a sunless sea is a dreary, lifeless place in contrast to the pleasure dome in Xanadu and the sacred river Alph and as soon as I started reading the title story I realised why Freese chose that title as I was plunged into the fearful world of Adam, scared of most things and living “an intensely solitary childhood”, feeling detached and

“as though he is photographing himself behind a schizoid lens, for he is never in himself observing himself – holding the cap gun, for one. Rather he is Adam staring at Adam from afar, the nether camera-work of a dream.”

As I was reading the stories I began to wonder just what it is I expect from my reading. Sometimes I just want to be entertained and I didn’t find these stories entertaining at all. Sometimes I want to be taken out of myself and on this level they definitely work – there is one story that I could relate to a little bit and that is Little Errands in which the narrator agonises over whether or not he/she (I’ll say he from now on) has posted some letters, relating this to times when he’s not been sure if he turned off the car radio and will return to find a dead car battery. I’ve done something similar (well not the car radio) only to find that I haven’t posted a letter or I didn’t set the cooker timer and the chicken is still uncooked.

Some of the other stories are so sad and haunting, such as Alabaster – a little boy meets an old woman, a survivor of the Holocaust, and her daughter sitting on a wooden bench on a sidewalk. Clearly, they are sad – he thinks of them in later life seeing them as:

“… Egyptian statuary, totemic, to be viewed and admired, but not to be engaged, as if what they were or had been exposed to precluded any real human contact. This small family endured a strange exile.”

The old woman frightens him a little with her strangeness and he sees the number tattoed on her arm – her arms had been beautiful as a child, like alabaster. Inside she is still that beautiful girl with alabaster arms, although now she feels as though she’s living someone else’s life.

I have to say that I found these stories quite disturbing and unsettling, which is not a bad thing, but don’t expect any cosy, comforting stories. ( )
  BooksPlease | Mar 23, 2010 |
Down to a Sunless Sea is another one of those books I probably wouldn't have come across except that I was offered a copy to review. I didn't know much about the book except that it was a collection of short stories about troubled people written by Mathias B. Freese, who is a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist in addition to being an author. Down to a Sunless Sea was apparently a finalist for a 2008 Indie Excellence Book Award in addition to receiving an Allbooks Reviews Editor's Choice Award. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with either honor. So, I accepted the book, not really knowing what I was getting into, but I am glad that I did.

Down to a Sunless Sea consists of fifteen short stories. Nine were previously published between the years 1974 and 2007, one ("Unanswerable") being an excerpt from Freese's historical novel The i Tetralogy. The other six stories make their publishing debut in this 2007 collection. Each story focuses on a person, portraying the interactions between society and self. Although overall the collection is somewhat dreary--the Holocaust is often used as a touchstone, for example--there are some very beautiful moments as well.

Despite the fact that the cover of the book declares the contents to be "short stories," for the most part I think it would be more accurate to call them character sketches. Even when there is a significant plot, Freese focuses more on the people rather than on the action. The stories tend to depict the darker aspects of human nature, but they are not approached without a sense of hope, compassion, and understanding. The writing is superb and the style is different from piece to piece, exhibiting Freese's skill and command of the English language.

The portrayals of the characters are exceedingly intelligent and relentless--Down to a Sunless Sea packs quite a punch for such a slim volume. I could see bits and pieces of myself throughout the book and so while I didn't always completely understand, I did feel a connection with these broken people. It certainly doesn't make for easy or light reading, in fact it's rather serious and even disconcerting, but it is very potent and very good.

Stories include: "Down to a Sunless Sea"; "I'll Make It, I Think"; "The Chatham Bear"; "Herbie"; "Alabaster"; "Juan Peron's Hands"; "Little Errands"; "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Father Was a Nazi"; "Echo"; "Young Man"; "Nicholas"; "Billy's Mirrored Wall"; "Unanswerable"; "For a While Here in This Moment"; and "Mortise and Tenon."

Experiments in Reading ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Apr 24, 2009 |
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.
  LisaLynne | Apr 23, 2009 |
I finished this book quite a while ago and have been letting it roll around in my head before I wrote my review. I thought with some more time, maybe the book would grow on me, but I have come to realize this one just wasn't for me.

There were a couple of stories that I really did like, but the majority didn't appeal to me. My favorite story was I'll Make It, I Think. It is the story of a young man who is physically disabled. You get a glimpse into his life and mind, and what you see isn't always pretty. He is angry and sometimes unhappy, but the story is unflinchingly honest.

I also enjoyed Little Errands a lot. It is a stream of consciousness type story and I really related to it. I occasionally have days when I feel like I am always second guessing myself and feel ragged and run down, like the character in the story.

I didn't really connect to the characters in the other stories though. It wasn't the writing, but more the feeling that I just didn't have anything in common with them. These stories are very short, sometimes only a few pages. I usually like my short stories to be a little longer so that I am able to get a sense of the character before moving on to the next story. ( )
  Lallybroch | Apr 8, 2009 |
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"Movieola is a collection of linked short stories that delights and exploits the language and paraphernalia of industrial Hollywood. The collection delves into a night at the movies, featuring all the familiar types-the rom-com, the action-adventure, the superhero and the spy-but the narratives are still under construction, and every story line is an opportunity for the unimaginable twist. Motive and identity are constantly shifting in these short stories that offer both narrative and anti-narrative, while the stunted shoptalk of the movie business struggles to keep up. With the wit of Steve Erickson's Zeroville and the inventive spirit of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, John Domini offers a collection at once comical and moving, carefully suspended between a game of language and a celebration of American film. "--

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