Books: The Deep by Nick Cutter

Nick Cutter, the horror-focused pseudonym of Canadian fiction writer Craig Davidson, made a big splash in the horror community back in 2014 with his excellent (and unbelievably gruesome) novel The Troop, about a small group of Boy Scouts trapped on an island who must contend with not only a sociopath in their midst, but also lots (and lots) of disgusting, killer tapeworms. So. Many. Worms. It was revolting and pretty damn great.

Then in 2015, he unleashed another slab of grisly horror goodness titled The Deep, which was recommended to me by a listener and was happily available to read for free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription. And holy tap-dancing Christ, was it one of the most horrifying things I think I’ve ever read; seriously, the whole vibe of this thing just stressed me right the fuck out, and I think scenes from it are going to be squelching around in my brain for the rest of my life. Yeesh. The Troop was fantastic, but this thing was on a whole other level, and it got me good, probably because very few things scare me more than thinking about the shit that’s going on WAY, WAY, WAY down at the bottom of the ocean. No fucking thank you.

Now, a couple caveats before I get too far into it. Not gonna lie, this novel homages A LOT of other books and movies, and some people might feel as though the whole thing is too much of a ripoff, or simply a cut-and-paste collage of its obvious influences. I didn’t feel that way at all, especially because pretty much everything in fiction has been done at this point, but I could totally see how some readers might think it’s too similar to some other works. The blurb on the back of the book calls it The Abyss meets The Shining, and that’s fairly accurate, but The Deep also features substantial dollops of Event Horizon, Sphere, The Thing, Alien, Hellraiser, Annihilation, and Stephen King’s It, with a healthy helping of Lovecraft thrown in there just for funsies. If this family resemblance to those other books and movies is going to piss you off, then you might want to skip The Deep, but to be honest with you, I thought Nick Cutter did a great job taking elements from all those stories and combining them into a nightmarish creation all his own.

The only other possibly negative things I can say about it are that I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, or about a big plot point that took up a large portion of the book’s description and first act not really factoring into the story as it went on. I’ll also note that the transitions between the present-day action and the flashbacks (which are numerous) were slightly clunky in places, though that’s a very minor criticism that didn’t bother me all that much.

Oh, and I will also warn everyone right out of the gate that the poor dogs in this don’t simply die, but go out in a way so horrible that I could barely stand to read it and that legitimately made me cry. I guess that’s not really a negative in a horror novel, though, because it goes to show that the author effectively conveyed horror, so props, I guess? Goddammit.

Anyway, The Deep begins by establishing that the human race is being slowly (but sort of mellowly) phased out by a weird pandemic known as The ‘Gets (short for “forgets”). No one knows exactly how the disease works or how it spreads, but basically, if you get it, you develop these weird spots on your arms, and then you start forgetting things; just little shit at first, but eventually your body forgets to eat and forgets how to breathe, and then (obviously) you die. This plot point, incidentally, is the one I was talking about that is set up in the beginning and then becomes less important as the story unfolds, to the point where you, as the reader, almost forget that the worldwide plague deal is even happening. This actually didn’t concern me too much, for two reasons: one, the stuff that was happening to the handful of main characters was more interesting and fucked up than the plague subplot; and two, I feel like we didn’t really need yet another book that’s all about the human race dying off anyway.

Our main protagonist is a veterinarian by the name of Dr. Luke Nelson, who has lost his (ex) wife to The ‘Gets. Seven years prior, the couple’s five-year-old son Zachary mysteriously disappeared from a nearby park when Luke took the boy there after school, and no trace of the child has been found since.

At the beginning of the story, Luke is being flown out to a research station in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; specifically, right over the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. Turns out that eight miles beneath the sea, a bizarre substance dubbed “ambrosia” has been discovered, that may have the potential to not only cure The ‘Gets, but to cure every other disease that has afflicted our species since the dawn of humankind. Luke’s extraordinarily intelligent but also coldly sociopathic brother Clayton, one of the world’s pre-eminent scientists, is working down at the ocean floor along with two other researchers, experimenting with ambrosia in the hopes that it will be a “universal healer.” It’s established that several of the planet’s governments collaborated to build the Trieste, a facility eight miles under the Pacific, where ambrosia can be harvested and isolated.

Luke is being shuttled down to the Trieste because of a strange audio message asking for him, ostensibly from his brother Clayton. The scientists down there have gone pretty much radio silent, no longer communicating with the surface; well, except for Dr. Westlake, who emerged from the depths in a craft shortly before Luke’s arrival, looking as though he had cut himself to ribbons…multiple times, in fact.

Luke has no idea why his brother would have asked for him; the brothers haven’t spoken in years, and Clayton has always viewed his brother—as well as pretty much everyone else on Earth—with barely disguised contempt. But Luke has to admit that he’s curious, not only about Clayton’s reasons for summoning him, but also about the supposedly miraculous substance he’s working with that may save the world.

So Luke, accompanied by US Navy Lieutenant Commander Alice “Al” Sykes, descends into the lightless, alien depths of the Pacific, and hoo boy, if you’re at all claustrophobic, then this book is going to trigger you big-time. Just the thought of going down and down and down into this utter, super-pressurized blackness is pants-shittingly scary enough on its own, but then Nick Cutter layers on the anxiety, introducing escalating madness into the equation. Once Luke gets to the Trieste, he starts to notice that his terrifying childhood memories and nightmares are returning and becoming ever more vivid, and at first there’s no way of knowing whether his crumbling hold on rationality is caused by The ‘Gets, by the intensely isolating experience of being in a confined facility that could literally collapse from the immense pressure at any second, or perhaps by something having to do with the very substance the station was put there to study. Is the ambrosia…alive? And worse, is it sentient? Malevolent? What exactly is this shit and what is it doing to the minds of all who encounter it?

So yeah, this book was nerve-racking as all get-out, and it really made me feel every stifling second of being trapped in a big tin can beneath billions of pounds of black, merciless water, while some alien organism roots through your psyche, looking for the most ghastly things to show you to really make you go completely, gibberingly insane. It’s also intensely gross, with lots of gooey body horror, so it’s definitely not for the squeamish. If you’re a fan of any of the books or movies I previously mentioned and don’t mind a story that takes bits and pieces from all of them and wraps them all up in a sickening new skin, then this should be right up your alley (or down your trench, as it were).

I’m still mad about the dogs, though.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s