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In the Throes

by Mathias B. Freese

Rating: *****

In the Throes introduces the reader to “Gruff”, a colossal, grotesquely-rendered, primitive creature who exists in a dystopian toxic hellscape.

Gruff develops awareness, linguistics, and the capability for artistic expression through an anomalous evolutionary quirk. He can communicate with humankind, who have always been his prey, and the relationships he forms with them have profound consequences for both species.

In the Throes was drafted in the 1970s and, initially, has that chromatic apocalyptic vibe redolent of the decade. However, it impresses as fresh and sharply applicable, possibly more so now than ever.

The novel operates on several levels most of which pertain to metaphysical awakening. It can, indeed, be read at face value, viewed as a broad commentary on the evolution of man, or seen as the individual struggle for creative consciousness.

Nevertheless, these three expositional possibilities are merely the tip of the interpretative iceberg; this is a subjective and wholly approachable read.

The life of a Gruff is crude, instinctive, and barbarically ritualistic. They dislike each other, remaining solitary unless to mate and communicate through basic telepathic imagery and guttural bellows. They believe their destiny is governed by the “Image Giver”, a nebulous, omniscient force of which they are in awe.

The environment that Freese has conjured for the Gruff is a magenta-hued, brutal antediluvian realm governed by meteorological peculiarities and inhabited by beings who appear to exist in a permanent state of cataclysm and hostility. The terrain can be seen to serve as a metaphor for Gruff’s nascent mental landscape and subsequent struggles.

Gruff rises out of this seething primordial soup with his unique linguistic ability. He primarily utters “the” and his throes into intelligent awakening begin, lending the narrative purpose and momentum within intense, chaotic imagery.

His lingual ability increases in tandem with his awareness and is further consolidated by Gruff’s encounter with a young human boy, “Man-Youth”. They form a powerful, esoteric bond despite periods of absence from each other. After establishing that the Gruff will not eat him, Man-Youth (later becoming Man-Friend), and Gruff explore identity and ontology through semantics and significs.

Man undertakes his own epistemological journey in response to discovering Gruff’s emerging capabilities and is, for some while, treated as an outcast. Abandonment also becomes a pivotal driver for Gruff, with the memory of his mother, “Close One” discarding him. His search for her compassion and acceptance is deeply poignant.

Freese’s prose has a slight biblical register, which suits the subject, and the first chapter scans almost like an abstruse narrative poem. His writing is intricate, cerebral, and pulses with Gruff’s observations and anticipations alongside metaphorical imagery.

Nonetheless, for all the lyrical esotericism and allegorical world-building, Freese subtly alters form and tone to Gruff’s awareness. He varnishes a delicate gloss of child-like simplicity over large areas of the syntax. Short, fragmentary sentences often lacking prepositions enhance and immerse the reader with a sense of immediacy into Gruff’s burgeoning thought processes.

Freese has turned every line in his mind before committing to the page, and it shows. There is so much to find in his words, and he uses them without pomposity or pretension.

He acknowledges Freud and the Indian philosopher Krishnamurti in his depiction of Gruff. I also felt the influence of John Bunyan in Gruff’s dark travails of mind and body. The phrase, “the viper of grief” seemed an especial Bunyan-ism.

The apotheosis of Gruff, as he unveils his statuaries, witnessed by Man-Friend is a visual, moving spectacle riven with tumultuous, crashing emotion. The last chapter also gives a neat nod to a previous work of illumination by the Author, Again. Again and Again.*

Freese has produced a mesmerizing read full of arcane fire and intellectual sophistication while remaining thoroughly accessible. In the Throes is highly recommended and deserving of a wide audience.

*Click here for my review of Again. Again and Again.

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