Saturday, March 14, 2020

"The Deep"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Deep, and reported the following:
Abroad the RMS Titanic. Two of the main characters, married, are debating whether to attend a séance:
“Let it go, Mark,” she said with a sigh. “They all agreed to participate, anyway, after Madeleine Astor insisted. I’m sure she simply can’t think of any other form of postdinner entertainment. And you must admit you’re curious, aren’t you?”

There was more she could say, wasn’t there? The weight and power of Lillian everywhere in their thoughts. He had to wonder, as she did. She tried not to admit how often she felt that woman’s presence, looking over her shoulder. Would she follow them to the bitter end?

“It’s disrespectful. A sick indulgence. I beg you, Caroline: let the dead rest in peace.”

Caroline’s hands shook as she smoothed her dress, and she refused to look Mark in the eye. Let the dead rest in peace. And yet he still carried Lillian’s diary like some kind of dirty secret, kept in his breast pocket close to his heart. As if Caroline didn’t know. As if she didn’t know everything—the horrible, shaking breath and piercing cry of his nightmares, the same ones, she was sure, that wove stealthily into her own on the nights she slept at all.
This book was a delight to write, but also a challenge because it’s big and sprawling. Plots and sub-plots. Like The Hunger, it has an ensemble cast, and the married couple in this scene figures large in the novel. Mark and Caroline are newly married and yet the ghost of Mark’s previous love hangs over them. For this sub-plot, I tried to evoke Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, keeping the reader guessing as to which is the wronged woman: the dead Lillian, or the new wife Caroline?

The novel draws on two major issues of the times: class inequality (this was the era of ultra-rich dynastic families) and women’s rights. The Deep is quite Gothic, as is appropriate for the era, with its broad interest in the occult and spiritualism.

The story follows a young, poor Irish girl, Annie Hebbley, who gets a job as a stewardess on the Titanic. She’s obviously running away from something, but we’re not sure what. She finds herself drawn to one of the passengers, Mark Fletcher (he of Page 69!) and his infant daughter, though she can’t say why. Before long, Annie is at the center of a lot of strange goings-on aboard the Titanic and, just as things come to a head, the ship hits the iceberg.

Cut to four years later. Annie, her memory wiped clean, is released from an asylum in Scotland. Violet, who was also a stewardess on the Titanic, talks Annie into taking a job as a nurse on the Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship. The Britannic has been converted into a hospital ship for the war effort and is in dire need of nurses. Annie agrees, but she’s just started to adjust to her new life when she thinks she sees Mark Fletcher among the wounded. But didn’t he die that night, on the Titanic? No sooner are the two reunited than the strange goings on start up again, forcing Annie to confront her past and her role in the tragedies.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

--Marshal Zeringue