The Deep (review)

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The old man’s head was covered in mantises. At first Luke thought it was a wig or some weird toupee—but he was at the southern tip of Guam, a few miles from the Pacific, and the man was wearing tattered clothes and what looked like old stripes of radial tires lashed to his feet. Why bother with a toupee?

Rating: 5/5 stars

Nick Cutter had been on my radar since The Troop was published in 2014. During that time, the horror/sci-fi communities practically erupted in cordial chaos. And despite the nearly overwhelming accolades The Troop received (even Stephen King raved about it, calling it “old-school horror at its best,”) as well as the consensus that Cutter’s 2014 release was undoubtedly the stronger, more graphic of the two, I was ecstatic to finally be reading The Deep.

Cutter’s prose was exceptional, even majestic. Not just aesthetically, but also in depth, scope, and content. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Mere words cannot do it justice. There were literally countless occasions when I had to pause and simply marvel—fully enraptured—at the action sequences, for one, but especially by the creativity on the page, and the unique word choices themselves. Put another way: if I’d read the e-book, there would’ve been highlighted passages on almost every page. Cutter’s that dang good. I was that moved.

More than gore (which was deliriously twisted at times, to my delight,) or bizarre occurrences all around, what astounded me most was the author’s expert knowledge of the genre. He’s clearly passionate about the work. As such, he devoted many years studying publications of his predecessors (for instance, the aforementioned King, Clive Barker, etc..,) then perfecting his craft to the best of his ability. Indeed, he analyzed the works of the greats with a scholar’s intent. That was made all the more evident by some of his inspirational sources: Michael Crichton’s Sphere, Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s The Abyss. Additional sources include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and scores of others, I’m sure.

Cutter is a student of human nature. He knows precisely what makes us tick. Our deepest fears, insecurities, doubts and anxieties were unapologetically exploited. Claustrophobia, for instance.

The old man stood facing the wall of a one-story workshop. The ground was strewn with hubcaps and crankcases snarled in rusted wiring. Wrist-thick vines snaked out of the greenery to twine around the industrial junk; with nobody around to hack it back, the jungle would reclaim this spot in a matter of months.

Claustrophobia. Elements of that fear permeated several scenes throughout these five hundred pages, all of which were significant to both plot and character development. They were profound, provocative, and telling of Luke’s fragile psyche and personal history. It was through said scenes that the reader learns the most about Luke. As horrific as they were, they were some of my favorite scenes, and they made me gravitate towards him more and more. Learning more about him, L.B, and Alice was downright fascinating. Delving into Luke’s secret memories, traumas, and emotions was akin to a textbook examination.

Cutter reveled in pushing the envelope, and in ways that probably shouldn’t surprise the reader but nevertheless did, and the skills necessary to do that harken back to his extensive knowledge of human nature and the macabre. On a personal level, the claustrophobia-inducing sequences really resonated. They hit hard. Much harder than I could’ve anticipated. Perhaps if I wasn’t already fearful of confined spaces, it wouldn’t have been so impactful, but it was written in such an authentic and intense manner that I most likely would’ve experienced something, to some degree or another. But being impacted by claustrophobia in my everyday life, reading about it resulted in feeling lightheaded. My fingers trembled, my heartbeat thrummed along at breakneck speeds, and my anxiety was like worms slithering in my abdomen, aimlessly flitting fore and aft. On one occasion, I felt nauseated until the scene was concluded. That’s not an exaggeration. The Deep frightened me like no other book has.

The spotting was pronounced on his bare arms and his throat. The scabs were dime-sized, bigger than what Luke was used to seeing. Some of them had cracked open and were leaking grayish pus.

Luke had no clue what had drawn the mantises.

Another element that worked exceptionally well (and is arguably Cutter’s strong suit,) was the roller coaster of emotions. They never felt melodramatic or forced. Not once. You see this in the present a lot, but even more so in Luke’s flashbacks. It was there that the pathos, despair, and a dire sense of responsibility manifested themselves the most efficiently. Those emotions originated from a very real and accessible place.

As a whole, nothing was over or underdone. The balance was very precise, fascinating, and rendered beautifully. Several scenes (primarily the ones that shed light on Luke and Clayton’s AWFUL upbringing, as well as Zachary’s tragic disappearance,) literally had me on the verge of tears. And I don’t cry easily. In fact, books very, very rarely make me cry. Cutter’s prose was just that powerful and real. It felt extremely realistic (despite how strange and horrific it was,) almost as if parts of it were ripped from the headlines.

Which brings me to the ‘Gets. The Deep hooked me from the first sentence (“The old man’s head was covered in mantises,”) and never really let up. Said feat was made that much more impressive and awe-inspiring by featuring some of the creepiest details I’ve ever had the pleasure reading. The ‘Gets was the catalyst of turn-of-events aboard The Trieste.

To my recollection, there were really only two flaws throughout the book, one of which wasn’t technically a flaw at all, but a product of artistic license. The faults tend to stick out more because the rest of it was so well-executed and thought-out. I’ll briefly discuss both in the following (view spoiler)

The Spots. They would get bigger, cover her body, turn crusty then pustulant…then she’d begin to forget. Minor stuff at first…. Next, she’d forget her brother’s name and the smell of her father’s pipe tobacco, and soon enough, her own face in the mirror. She’d forget what hot or cold should feel like, and then even the concepts of heat and cold. That would be the worst part, Luke figured: forgetting those elemental assurances everyone is born with. She’d look at the nut tree in her yard and forget the sensation of its leaves brushing her skin; soon she’d forget what leaves were to begin with, and how vital they are to our bodies (she’ll have forgotten about veins by that point, too.) She’d forget how wonderful those nuts taste—after all, she’d forget why eating mattered much at all.

The tree would make no sense to her. Nothing would, actually.

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