Beyond Horrifying: A Review of The Deep

The Deep (2015)
Written by: Nick Cutter
Genre: Horror
Pages: 394 (Hardback)
Publisher: Gallery Books

Why I Chose It: Someone posted a list of scary book suggestions for October that included Nick Cutter’s The Troop to the Speculative Chic Facebook group. Several of contributors had read his novels and the consensus was that his work is gross and extremely disturbing, so much so that some people couldn’t even finish his books. Reading this book was the literary equivalent of hearing someone say, “Yuck, this pizza is disgusting,” and then asking to taste it. I chose to read The Deep instead of The Troop because it was immediately available at my local library.

The Premise:

A strange plague called the ‘Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget — small things at first, like where they left their keys, then the not-so-small things, like how to drive or the letters of the alphabet. Their bodies forget how to function involuntarily. There is no cure.

But far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, a universal healer hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But when the station goes incommunicado, a brave few descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

Spoilers Ahead.


Discussion: Nick Cutter is an undeniably talented writer. I genuinely cared about the main characters — veterinarian Luke Nelson, whose eccentric scientist brother appears to have called him to the research lab, the Trieste, and Alice “Al” Skyes, the Navy Lieutenant Commander who pilots the sub that ferries Luke to meet his brother, Clayton. After the first few chapters, Luke, Al, Clayton, Dr. Toy, a scientist who has gone crazy, and Little Bee, a dog who was part of the research, are the only living creatures in the story, which adds to the sense of isolation.

Cutter is also an exceptionally vivid writer, which could be good or bad, depending on how horrifying you like your horror. I often felt like I was watching the events unfold in a movie, like when Al describes a terrible accident on a nuclear attack submarine.

“The wall beside Eldred tore apart like a tin can. Bits of the super-heated turbine, screws and rivets and what all, blew through the ripped steel and buried into him. He slammed into the far wall and reeled like a drunk. This thin metal rod was struck through his throat. Bolts and whatever else had ripped his cheeks open. I could see inside his face, places that nobody ought to see.” (p.194-5).

There are certainly some lost opportunities in this book. The ‘Gets, a terrifying combination of Ebola and Alzheimer’s disease, is basically just an elaborate ploy to give Luke a reason to travel to the Trieste. A plague that causes dementia is both fascinating and extremely scary, but the ‘Gets is only part of the story for the first couple of chapters. Cutter also seemed to hint that good and evil were going to battle on a Biblical scale. The research station floating above the Trieste is the Hesperus, which Luke observes is often mistranslated in Latin as Phosphorus or Lucifer. Clayton tells one of the other scientists, “What if the devil unleashed a perfectly unexplainable plague on humanity? If so, isn’t it equally possible that God created the perfect, if inexplicable cure?” (p.47). Due to these hints and how bleak things become for the characters, I fully expected Satan himself to come strolling into the story and was disappointed when he didn’t.

Luke is a particularly sympathetic character because his life is a nightmare even before he descends to the bottom of the ocean. His father is a weakling and his mother is a psychotically abusive woman who gorges on food, not because she enjoys eating, but to make herself physically repulsive. His brother is a recognized scientific genius at the age of twelve, but Clayton is so distant and cold that he never even meets Luke’s wife and son. Zach, Luke’s son, disappears at the age of seven while he and Luke are playing hide-and-go-seek in a park. His devastated wife leaves him. Then an apocalyptic plague strikes humanity. All of this happens before Luke enters the underwater chamber of horrors. Once Luke enters the Trieste, there is romantic tension between him and Al, but Cutter is not a writer who allows his characters even one single moment of happiness.

Even Luke’s memories are horrible. He remembers his mother’s abuse and an incident when a stinging millipede got stuck in Zach’s onesie. Through the entire book, Luke has one positive recollection. He recalls a time when Zach was five and frightened that monsters were in his closet. Luke tells his son that monsters are just figments of his imagination, but Zach misunderstands and thinks that there are Fig Men lurking in his bedroom. Luke uses hunks of obsidian to convince Luke that the Fig Men have been captured. The ending takes the one sweet moment from the entire book and perverts into something beyond horrible.

Between the events actually happening and the flashbacks to the characters’ memories, The Deep contains almost everything bad that can happen. Kidnapping, child abuse, incest, murder, and ghosts are the mere tip of the iceberg. Evil lurks in basements, drain pipes, and the ice cream man. There is the claustrophobia, fear of drowning, and horror of going insane that you would anticipate in a book set eight miles beneath the ocean, but Cutter also impressively works fear of clowns into this story. Luke’s mother forces him to put a toy box with sinister clowns that she calls the “Tickle Trunk” in his room because her goal as a mother apparently was to raise serial killers. Luke has to pour fish oil on the trunk to get his mother to throw it away. This book has mutilated bodies galore but the incident that almost make me sick involved insects hatching out of man’s skin. Cutter kills the dog in an agonizing scene that goes on for an entire chapter and makes Old Yeller seem like a comedy in comparison. The fact that Little Bee doesn’t lose her ability to be a good dog made me expect a redemption that never comes. I don’t think I have ever read a book before this one that made me root for the characters to be put out of their misery.

In conclusion: The other Speculative Chic contributors did not joke when they said that The Deep is dark and grotesque. I have read non-fiction books about the Holocaust that were less relentlessly grim. This novel is definitely not for everyone, not even all horror fans. If you have ever found yourself thinking, “I wish that Pollyanna Stephen King would stop writing stories filled with happiness and sunshine,” Nick Cutter’s writing might be for you. Be warned that if you can’t handle bad things happening to animals, you do not want to read this. Ultimately, the nihilism worked against The Deep. Without light to balance the dark, the book started to feel less like horror and more like torture porn. In spite of his flaws and the nightmares it may give me, I still want to read more of Nick Cutter’s work. He has the potential to write a brilliant horror novel; unfortunately, this was not it.

11 Comments

  • Shara White October 26, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    You know, I think I’m going to take Casey and Nicole’s advice (added to yours) and pass on this one. I kept wanting to read this because the hardcover art is so pretty, but after this review and their warnings, I think it’s going to be a hard pass. I’ll be curious how you respond to Cutter’s other work, though, see if anything else catches my interest (besides cover art).

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty October 28, 2017 at 1:41 am

      I just finished The Troop. I can’t really tell if it was because I knew what to expect, but I thought The Deep was much worse, in terms of how gruesome and horrifying it was. The plot of The Troop was more plausible, but I didn’t like the characters as much and Cutter didn’t provide enough backstory for them, so I didn’t care that much when they started dying. Cutter definitely seems to have a thing for mad scientists, insect infesting human bodies (*shudders*), and animal torture. Bad things happen to a kitten and a turtle in The Troop. My mother picked up The Troop and put it down for being too gross about ten pages in. I did warn her, “You’re not going to like this.”

      Reply
      • Shara White October 28, 2017 at 4:41 pm

        Okay, then I’m definitely not reading Cutter. Nope to animal torture. And if this is a consistent thing for him, yeah, I’m a hard pass.

        Reply
  • Nicole Taft October 26, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Ok, I haven’t even read the review yet (I’m going to in a moment), but I literally just opened the Spec Chic page, saw this up, and said aloud, “Nooooooo….Kelly you didn’t…..noooo.” *lol*

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty October 28, 2017 at 1:54 am

      I did hit a point when I thought, “I really should have listened to the people who told me not to read this.”

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft October 27, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    I realize I never responded. I actually disagree with you, but only at the very end there. In a bizarre sort of way, I like this book in just how absolutely fucked everything is. I think it was Tim Waggoner who posited the question to us in asking if we accepted horror without happy endings. I acknowledged that I do indeed prefer light balancing out the dark, but because horror is, well, horrific, I’m accepting in that it may not. The good guys don’t always win. Evil does occasionally triumph. Which is why I tend to steer clear of horror. I want the bad guys to die. I want evil to be destroyed. All the places this book was willing to go, my brain does NOT like to go. But, as they say, shit happens. Though I do understand where you’re coming from.

    And while I will absolutely 100% NOT read The Troop by Cutter, I must admit, I have an itch to read Little Heaven because my twisted curiosity wants to know how that works out. Both The Troop and The Deep are very different in terms of plot and character destruction (to put it mildly, I suppose), so I wonder just what he does with this strange group of folk. I think another part of it is because Outlast 2 was such a disappointment, and this almost sounds like something akin to Outlast 2 – if it weren’t such a disappointment.

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty October 28, 2017 at 1:52 am

      I’m not a huge fan of horror, but I would say that I am okay with horror that doesn’t end happily or horror that lets the bad guys win. I think my problem with The Deep was that it was so oppressively gruesome and horrible that I wanted the main characters to die, just to end their suffering. I also think it was too over the top, that it went for shock value at the expense of the story. I both liked and disliked the novel, if that makes sense. I read The Troop and I think The Deep is worse, in terms of the horror and gore. There seems to a terrible scene of animal torture in every book, though. I’m interested in Little Heaven but also afraid because each of Cutter’s books seems to be more horrific than the last.

      Reply
  • Casey Price October 28, 2017 at 10:22 am

    You are a braver soul than I am. I’m not going near Cutter ever again, because I know my limits. This is why I skimmed after a certain point. I was a bit intrigued by the ending and the blatant Lovecraft influence but the journey was too much for me. So it succeeds at being utterly horrifying but personally, I need something more than just the utter bleakness that this book has to offer.

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty October 28, 2017 at 11:32 pm

      The Deep reminded me of movies like Saw because I feel like there is a tipping point when something becomes torture porn, not horror. In my opinion, The Troop was not as bad as The Deep in terms of gruesomeness, but Cutter really seems to always include insect infestation and animal torture, two things that I really don’t want to read about.

      Reply
  • Ronya FM October 28, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    OMG Nick Cutter. You really took one for the team here. I feel like I should load the comments section with beach & butterfly gifs. I read “The Troop” and that made me want to scrub my brain. I’ll be sticking with “Pollyanna Stephen King” for my horror reads.

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty November 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      I’m not sure if knowing what to expect made a difference, but I thought The Troop was way less disturbing than The Deep. I’m still curious about Little Heavens but I may need a break.

      Reply

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