Novella Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (November 5, 2019)
Length: 176 pages
Inspired by a song, The Deep tells of the Wajinru, water-dwelling mermaid-like creatures who are the descendants of the pregnant African women who were thrown overboard and left to drown during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, their unborn babies survived, rescued and raised by whales. Eventually their numbers grew, and they created their own idyllic society under the sea.
But that life of contentment comes at a cost. For the Wajinru have forgotten their past, which is too traumatic and painful to bear. Only one of their members, designated the Historian, holds all their people’s memories and stories of their origin, and her name is Yetu. While her peers go about their happy and carefree lives, Yetu lives under a heavy burden, knowing the price of her role and why it is needed. But eventually, that agony and strain came to be too much. Days before the Remembering, an annual ritual in which the Wajinru come together to take back their memories, if only for a time, Yetu flees to the surface, leaving the crushing weight of responsibility and expectation behind.
However, as she’ll soon find, while she may have shed the role of Historian, letting go of history itself is not so easy. Among the mysterious two-legs, she learns more than she expected to find about the past of her people, as well as what the future ahead may hold.
I almost didn’t read this book after finding out some of its topics, which I find can be very difficult and upsetting to read at times, but I am glad I took a chance. Yes, there is discussion of heavy subject matter, depictions of violence, death, slavery and genocide. But for the most part, The Deep is a lyrical narrative, an introspective artistic take on the idea of shared history, tradition, and connectedness. I won’t lie; there is overwhelmingly profound pain in Yetu’s story as well as in the history of the Wajinru, but there is also a lot of beauty in the book’s themes and in the way they’re layered.
But it is important as well to know the style in which it is written. Coming in at roughly 175 pages, The Deep is a novella so it is a quick read, light on detail, and swiftly paced. It isn’t really a story told in the traditional sense either; rather, it reads more like an exploration of a concept. Structurally, the plot is a little haphazard, but this is understandable given how much of the book’s themes are based on the ideas of memory and forgetting, so we have some instances of repetition and the narrative bouncing back and forth and sometimes circling back. The writing also doesn’t offer much detail, direction or guidance, so it’s important for the reader to stay on top of things.
Normally, The Deep wouldn’t be my kind of read given its short length and style, but I have to say I ended up liking it more than I expected. Granted, I had trouble getting into the book from the outset, mostly because of the writing and the way the intro simply thrusts you into the middle of things with no explanation. But I think the situation changed once I got to know Yetu. I found the concept of a Historian, a single person who bears the burden of keeping memories for an entire society, to be entirely fascinating. But after a while, even more compelling to me was the effect the role was having on Yetu, and her journey was what kept me reading despite the book being rather light on plot.
I think I would have enjoyed this even more had I gone in knowing more about what to expect, but I also came away pleasantly surprised and curious to try more of Rivers Solomon’s work. The Deep was undeniably different from anything I’ve ever read before, in a good way. And while I wish it had contained more story, character development and history—which as you know is a pretty typical sentiment for me when it comes to novellas—I can nevertheless appreciate the book’s artistic merits and the way its premise and ideas were implemented.