Rating: 3 out of 5
Note: If fatphobia is triggering for you, just skip this review and the book altogether. It’s really bad.
Nick Cutter’s The Deep: A Novel introduces us to Dr. Luke Nelson, a veterinarian. Although he hasn’t seen his brother, genius scientist Clay, in years, he’s snapped up by the government to help out with a project Clay is involved in. Clay is 8 miles down under the surface of the ocean in the Mariana Trench, studying a possible miraculous cure-all agent they call ambrosia. There’s a disease going around called “the ‘Gets”–everyone who catches it starts forgetting more and more, until they finally forget to breathe. The hope is that ambrosia might be the one thing that cures it. Clay and two other scientists are trying to harvest some ambrosia to study. The problem is, the folks up top have lost contact with the little facility they have down there (the Trieste), and one of the last things Clay transmitted was a bizarre-sounding appeal for Luke to “come home.” One of the other scientists came up on his own and was found quite horrifically dead. The folks in charge hope that Luke will be the key to finding out what’s going on, and he’s quickly sent down to the Trieste with Lieutenant Commander Alice “Al” Sykes.
I love it when the weird stuff starts happening early on in a horror or paranormal novel. We all know it’s coming; it’s overly coy to keep it out of reach. The Deep dives right in, with the ‘Gets, the ambrosia, and the insanity of sending three scientists 8 miles below the ocean’s surface. When Luke and Al get down there, things have already gone very, very wrong. One of the two remaining scientists seems to have gone insane. True, this can happen when you’re alone, in the dark, in such an inhospitable place, but this is something else. Clay doesn’t seem all that odd, but I mean, this is Clay–he’s always been impassive, cold, and uncaring about anyone except himself. As he says, why would he have sent for Luke? Luke can’t do anything for him. There are very weird things going on in the various labs, but most of the doors are locked and Luke can’t tell what’s going on inside of them.
The insane and weird events build nicely, but there was at least one stretch toward the end where I felt like it wasn’t really ramping up fast enough. It got over that, though. There are a lot of memories that Luke spends his time falling into–apparently it’s something about the Trieste, or whatever else might be down here with the ambrosia. Thus we see into Luke’s life quite often. It does become relevant, I promise. He’s had a hard time of things–his son Zach disappeared some years ago. And he and Clayton did not exactly have a normal upbringing.
This is where I tackle the thing that pissed me off about this book. Luke and Clayton’s mother. She’s a horrifying monster of a woman, capable of terrible things. She’s also a walking, talking veneer over the face of some serious fatphobia. The details of her fatness are almost lovingly lingered on and very obviously meant to make her seem more disgusting and monstrous. Nearly every time she’s brought up there’s a nod to her fatness whether it’s relevant to anything or not. When she trauma-eats after a very violent event, even that is made to be disgusting. Then there’s a brief mention of a man who killed a bunch of children, and of course he’s labeled “rotund.” In Nick Cutter’s world, fat equals evil. Fat equals disgusting. Fat equals disturbed. People who are fat abuse children, molest children, and kill children.
It’s a shame, because this is a really creative book other than that. I love how things work out in some very unexpected ways. However, there’s a seriously major plot point that never gets at all wrapped up–it drops away into nowhere after being worked up into something that seems very unnatural.
Content note for a fair amount of animal harm, because Clay has no morals and experiments on animals, even referring to each one as “it.” There’s also off-the-page child death and molestation, and of course a bit of gore.