Crossing through loneliness in search of communal pleasure in Seattle, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore exposes the failure and persistence of queer dreams, the hypocritical allure of gay male sexual culture, and the stranglehold of the suburban imagination over city life.
Many writers have tried to describe the chill of Seattle’s social distance, an aloof tendency that predates the pandemic. No one got it right until queer activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in The Freezer Door, an aching, playful memoir of vivid desire amid the desperation of midlife disconnection ... alive with the existential nausea of being displaced ... With the probing, restless spirit of the flâneuse, Sycamore traces topographies of hurt and want during long walks on Seattle streets mapped with the same precision shown to Boston in her third novel, Sketchtasy ... The sheer density of ideas in this subversive memoir hovers at an exponentially higher level than most books, which build to major revelations choreographed over a three-act structure that is the calcified legacy of dead men. Pushing the boundaries of her mellifluous stream-of-consciousness style, there is little respite in The Freezer Door. The rigor and clarity of her thinking may not be evident to those who need character and plot development through linear narrative ... reading her prose is like watching someone burn themselves on heat of their own making, made frantic by the bared bulb of instinct. This book unfurls in one long feverish rush with philosophical crests and scenic meanders through clubs, bars and parks where, sober and toting condoms, Sycamore seeks connection that does not last ... Whimsical and disaffected, that surreal dialogue provides a respite. Otherwise, this book brims with slippery sentences that reach their truths like rivers finding the sea. With an intellect that supersedes social boundaries through sheer insistence, Sycamore chronicles the paradox of inhabiting a fluid life in a rigid world.
... language, when wielded in expert hands, can thrive in mystery, outside of linearity ... There is much to love here. The pacing of the work, with its often fragmentary form, allows readers to sit with poignant moments for a beat, unpacking a sentence only to return later to unpack it again. Other sections slide past more quickly, thoughts rubbing up against one another in wild streams of consciousness. The larger, denser segments allow uninterrupted access to Sycamore’s thoughts as she navigates the complex (and occasionally conflicting) intimacies that construct her life: connections to illness, to art, to gender, to friends and lovers ... Sycamore moves fluidly through timelines ... A rich tapestry of images, tethered by rigorous self-examinations ... There are no questions answered in this book. Instead, questions create further questions, further attempts at rediscovery and at blurring boundaries. Hers is a welcome blurring and, in a culture of relentless demarcation, a necessary one.
... a lyric tirade against gentrification—of our minds, our sexualities, our cities—and the persistent, collective longing and loneliness it produces. This book, this intervention, was written well before the coronavirus was a quiver in our lungs. And yet it’s a bizarre gift that we get to read it now, quarantined as we are in the American nightmare and acutely attuned to our fear and disconnection ... Sycamore opens us to the desire of the unknown, the stranger that gets to become something else ... Sycamore politicizes the roots of human suffering in The Freezer Door . Connection, its lack thereof, and the vagaries of desire are the work’s animating forces. It’s not quite a memoir and yet, like her fiction, it spirals into nonlinear, associative magic: passages about cruising for sex, meditations on grief, and an imagined dialogue between an ice cube and the tray that holds it, both imprisoned by and dependent upon the freezer ... Sycamore offers us possibility through the language of desire: to act on the thing you want by feeling and risking disorder. However, as the lyrical recurrences of the book demonstrate, Sycamore and the people she encounters are stuck in a loop: everyone is doing the same things and expecting different results. The willingness to expect the different result can make us feel alive, especially in those moments when we are surprised, but they never bring lasting nourishment. If we must constantly resist violence, which includes the gentrification of our minds, our communities, and our relationships, we will only have the resilience for brief moments of surprise at best before we are thrust back into the cycle again. Ephemeral pleasures are not a destination, and Sycamore is uncertain she will ever truly experience the queerness she longs for.