Books of 2015, #5: The Deep by Nick Cutter

Reading, say, one of the Jack Reacher books is interesting to me, as someone who once tried his hand at writing fiction, in that they are relentless, always pushing forward at a fever-pitched break-neck pace, but they never feel monotonous.

(Though there’s a whole essay to be written about how that thriller genre, and its close relations, are the real “adolescent male power fantasies” that, for my money, demonstrate actual comic books for the utterly benign influence they are.)

Sadly, I cannot say this of The Deep.

Closer, genre-wise, the more specific book I constantly found myself thinking of, while reading it, was Stephen King’s It. I have to assume this was intentional, because I cannot imagine that an author of nominal-horror novels could otherwise have a book that references: a monster in a stand-pipe, clowns, an ancient evil that afflicts a child, that ancient evil revisiting that child as an adult, a confrontation in a labrynthine rat’s-nest of tunnels, an abusive parent…I suspect I could find another couple at least if I were willing to waste my time on it.

Now I know that many people think that Stephen King is in perpetual need of a strong editor, but I wonder to what extent—when his novels work well, at least—his successes are because he takes long breaks from the action, because he attends to things other than the mechanics of the immediate plot, because he discurses like crazy.

Ultimately, I wonder whether this discursiveness simply sets up something in contrast to the horror that may be the central plot of the novel—and which, in the absence of such contrast, would just become boring and monotonous.

Which The Deep was—oh, God, I just wanted it to be over.

I’m not saying it justifies every word, but would It be as compelling if it didn’t show both the horror being visited upon the town of Derry, and the ways these children are tormented by it, as well as the sheer joyful experience they have of finding one another? They may bound together by necessity, but their bond transcends that—they become friends. They care about one another, but they also just go out and to the stupid shit kids do. It’s ultimately what brings them back to finally put things to rest.

I wonder, were I to go back and re-read Dr. Sleep, if I wouldn’t find that the reason that I found it less-than-compelling wasn’t the mildly paint-by-numbers horror of the antagonists (how many flavors of supernatural horror can you have, anyway), but the simple fact that Danny Torrance has so little in his life that brings joy. I mean, I’m glad he hit bottom and cleaned up, but the simple fact that so much time is spent on that, it feels like he has so little to lose—whereas in The Shining, the stakes are higher because what he’s losing is his father, who, however flawed, he loves unconditionally.

Well, if the lack of a sense of things-to-be-lost was a problem in Dr. Sleep, The Deep suffers from elephantitis of unhappiness. If there are more than a handful of sentences in the entire novel mentioning positive moments in the protagonists life, I must have skipped them as I became less and less engaged. Otherwise, it’s a shitty, malignant childhood, a broken adulthood, a global humanity-threatening pandemic (!) and ancient horrors.

Yeah, you know, I’m realizing that in addition to its lack of shading, it’s also lacking in coherence. Too many big chunks of undercooked plot left out in the open to rot and stink the place up. You could have excised at least two of that laundry list of Bad Things and come up with a much stronger novel. As it is, unless you’re just a devotee of horror for horror’s sake, please avoid The Deep.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.