At first Luke couldn’t tell what he was looking at. His eyes rejected it, as it didn’t fit any prior conceptions of the human form…
I was on the hunt for fiction by Canadian authors, but I also desired something in the realm of science fiction. If you had a chance to check out My Summer Reading List, you would know I am on a “science fiction kick.” Nick Cutter’s The Deep loomed from the top-shelf of a local authors collection with an ominous cover.
More horror than science fiction, The Deep frightened me (hold me, Rudy). So much so, I contacted an old friend who has amassed quite the collection of horror and science fiction. I wondered if he too had read Cutter’s latest novel.
No. But my friend has read other works by Cutter (The Troop—Cutter doesn’t seem to be cutting edge when it comes to titles) and shared a similar fascination with his work, yet with a tinge more enthusiasm than me.
To be honest, this is the first novel in a long time that I felt compelled to put down and stop reading, rethinking if I wanted to finish it. Perhaps, I haven’t worked up the nerves of steel, so to speak, to indulge in the horror genre. But this is not to say that I disliked The Deep. It left an impression, that’s for sure.
Luke could feel the sea pressing against his skull. His ear drums throbbed from the pressure of the static silence…
Luke is sent to fetch his mad scientist brother from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean who beckons him with the message: “Come home Luke, we need you.” Nick Cutter’s latest novel, The Deep, fantasizes the vulnerabilities of the human mind. The surface world is plagued with a disease named ‘Gets. First, it unravels a person’s memories before eating away their brain’s control over involuntary functions such as breathing.
Eight-thousand miles below the Pacific Ocean’s surface, a team of scientists seeks a cure in an egg-shaped lab called the Trieste. But they are not immune to the pressure of the sea, which warps their minds and memories. Luke, a Navy lieutenant, and a golden retriever find themselves trapped in the maw of the abyss as they search for a way to return to the surface world. All the while, their past manifests into violent apparitions.
I get the impression that The Deep is written with a screenplay in its future. There are many cinematic influences, sometimes weighing the novel down. As a result, what should be original imagery and set pieces is displaced by its inspirations. I am reminded of a history of horror cinema when I want to relish in a unique horror experience. On the one hand, this is the novel’s strength—it can evoke powerful imagery. On the other hand, it is its weakness, draining The Deep of its poetic potency.
Most chapters on average are three to four pages in length. This staccato structure in both sentence and scene grows tiresome by the second of four parts. Cutter rarely takes the opportunity to develop the scene and its characters beyond the spectacle that generates it. Even with chilling, gruesome, and vivid imagery—and allow me to add that this is some beautiful prose here—the characters and world lack any oomph. The fault lays in the fact that the characters, aside from trivial backstories explored in chapters designed to add a pause between action, do not seem to have any meaningful desires.
Well, Luke yearns for his son and wife who have disappeared. His brother is obsessed with absolute knowledge. And the dog seeks companionship after being abandoned in a dim-lit, narrow-passaged lab at the bottom of the Pacific. Yes—the dog, LB, has the most “humane” plot-line. In short, The Deep relies on the spectacle of horror alone to carry the narrative through its near four-hundred-page run.
And of course, there is the ‘Gets, which is just a MacGuffin.
There is one, overly gruesome chapter in the novel—and I expected this chapter’s arrival since LB’s introduction. I’m confident that with the mention of the dog earlier, I have been ramping up the anticipation for the expected: the dog’s brutal death. Most of the novel is forgettable. But whenever I look at The Deep on my bookshelf, I will remember the dog being dragged into the deep by a monstrosity of the abyss’ and science’s collaboration. Luke holding onto LB’s paws as they slip from his grip—as the darkness swallows LB whole.
The Trieste shivered. The walls seemed to expand like a pair of lungs inhaling a slow, contented breath. The station settled, and there came, suddenly, a persistent silence…
While Cutter’s language remains fresh, his imagery evokes too many moments from horror movies. The claustrophobia of the Trieste and its seemingly infinite darkness beckons Event Horizon and Alien. The malevolent force that torments the cast is reminiscent of The Abyss, Event Horizon, and The Thing. There are even hints of Jaws with the gratuitous death of one of the Scientists—I am thinking of Quint being crushed in the vice of the man-eating shark.
I do not want to get carried away and cite these instances as an exclusively bad thing. At the same time, however, it is hard to separate The Deep from the legacy of horror cinema.
On the literary side, I can see the influence of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft behind The Deep’s mythos. The unveiling in the final section is almost a throwback to King’s It (I would say it is equally disappointing here). The aesthetic and atmosphere of the Fig Men remind me of the Old Ones from the universe of Cthulhu.
Overall, I enjoyed The Deep for its prose. The writing matches the genre, building both action and imagery with exquisite details that, at times, foster frightening experiences.
I set it down out of pure terror.