Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Microreview [book]: The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

The Deep is a novella filled with pain and despair and rage and a glimmer of hope. It is built off of real history and pulled in unimaginable directions. The Deep is a must read novella in a year full of must read books.

"Remember," she said.
This was their story. This was where they began. Drowning.
"Submit," Yetu whispered, talking to herself as much as to them.
The Deep is a story borne out of the legacy of slavery, of the horrifying reality of slavers crossing the Atlantic Ocean and dumping the bodies of pregnant women over board. It is a story borne out of wondering about what life might grow out of that death. The Deep is a story of origins and new beginnings, of the horror of institutional memory and what it costs the individual.

Rivers Solomon takes the song "The Deep" from Clipping and gives it further live and character, gives it a different perspective and richness that the song hinted at but that Solomon had the room to explore across 176 pages that wasn't possible in the same way Clipping could do in five and a half minutes. Clipping's song "The Deep" was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form in 2018.
"We grow anxious and restless without you, my child. One can only go for so long without asking, who am I? Where do I come from? What does this all mean? What is being? What came before me, and what might come after? Without answers, there is only a hole, a hole where a history should be that takes the shape of an endless longing. We are cavities."
As the sole historian for the wajinru, it is Yetu's role and responsibility to remember the history of their race. Except for the historian, the wajinru functonally do not have long term memory or a sense of identity. With that lack of memory for the individual, the annual Remembrance gives live to the group because without it they would continue to forget who they are and where they came from. That sounds superficial, but Rivers Solomon and Clipping are not concerned with the surface. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the novella's title (and the song's) is more than just the depth where the wajinru exist.

The wajinru's gradual forgetting of their cultural past causes great pain and desperation and it's tied to a loss of individual identity as well. It is the "endless longing" quoted above. It's more than symbolic. Born from the bodies of the pregnant women thrown into the ocean by slavers, the wajinru are something new and the creation of the wajinru is so awful, so painful, that over the course of generations they adapt so that only one must bear the weight of history. The rest are blessed and cursed to forget. Both are with heavy cost.

I have never read anything like The Deep.

Solomon's writing is incredible. With only a few sentences I felt the water, the pressure of the deep, the movement of current and body. The water almost became a character and, not to mix metaphors too much, grounded the story into a particular location that the reader can sense.

The Deep is a novella filled with pain and despair and rage and a glimmer of hope. It is built off of real history and pulled in unimaginable directions, except that it was imagined and we're all better off because Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Rivers Solomon saw the possibilities of building something beautiful out of raw horror.
"What is belonging?" we ask
She says," Where loneliness ends"
The Deep is is a must read novella in a year stuffed full of must read books. This is essential reading.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 Despite the horror of history, The Deep recognizes the beauty and magnificence still present in the world.

Penalties: -1 Much of the story is Yetu's reluctance to subject herself to the performative memory, but if anything, The Deep may be a touch slow in moving Yetu to the Remembrance.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10, "very high quality/standout in its category" See more about our scoring system here.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.