A few little details initially made me wary of Mathias Freese’s book of essays The Mobius Strip Of Ifs. The title itself irked me a tad with its sheer abstraction, and on opening the book I discovered that the assorted acknowledgements, forewords and epigrams extended all the way to page “xviii”. When you also take into account the fact that the author has reviewed his own book “as a kind of guide to the perplexed” things begin to seem downright daunting.
The wariness was perhaps premature, as the essays in this esoteric and thoughtful collection are by and large an enjoyable read. The subject matter varies from one to the next, with a heartfelt essay on parenthood and family rubbing shoulders with a rant about the cruelty of megalomaniac bloggers. Themes do emerge of course–with parenthood, family and Freese’s work as a teacher and writer being foremost among them–but there are many other essays that stray far from these territories and into wilder, stranger waters. Ultimately what connects these essays together most tangibly is the mind behind them.
And what an interesting mind it is. Freese thinks deeply and follows through on his musings with a delightful clarity and sense of purpose. He excels at understated yet affecting memoir. Among the strongest pieces is “About Caryn” a forthright and at times painful entry about his relationship with his daughter, and her battle against an an immunological illness. It’s deeply moving, yet still retains the clarity of description that makes Freese’s work so easy to read.
“At 67” is another piece that stands out. In this essay Freese gives a calm and collected summary of his thought about old age, and an account of watching his son learn to find his way through the world. “He is me, he is not me, he is his mother, he is not his mother,” writes Freese. The essay–indeed the book as a whole–is filled with little nuggets like this.
There are, of course, a few bum notes scattered throughout. “The Unheard Scream” which takes the form of an open letter to his class of high school students is rife with abstraction and has only a few moments that really manage to resonate. Here Freese writes mostly in terms of “seeing things as they really are” and “a search for answers“. These words might have more impact on a high school student used to the language of fulfilling potential and following dreams, but they left me cold.
As with any collection, it’s up to the individual reader to pick and choose which sections they are to indulge in, and with my preferences firmly in mind I found plenty to keep me occupied.
My only concern, when it comes to The Mobius Strip Of Ifs is embodied by my initial reaction to the book. The foreword and assorted promotional materials paint the collection in a somewhat stuffy or intellectualised light. To avoid the book because of these initial impressions would be to miss out on many hours of pleasurable and thought-provoking reading. The Mobius Strip Of Ifs, despite the somewhat cryptic title, is worth more than just a quick look.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.