Friday, May 20, 2016
Review of The Deep by John Crowley
The Reds in perpetual conflict with the Blacks, The Deep opens at the end of another battle. Their traditional battleground, called the Drumskin, covered in dead bodies from both sides, the Enwives are left to clean up the mess as the generals and leaders head back to their cities to lick their wounds. Among the bodies, the Endwives find a Visitor. Neither male nor female, the Visitor tells a strange tale, of coming from the stars, and wanting to return. Captured by a captain in the Red army, he is taken back to the capital and installed as a secretary. And the war continues. An assassin taking out a key leader in the Red army, the war goes on, and the Visitor is left to fend for himself, finding a way back to his home.
Assassinations, civil turmoil, conquests, treachery, and a variety of other events form and shape the cyclical movement of the social landscape in and around the Reds and the Blacks. The title a reference to the perimeter of their world, a place where a mysterious leviathan is purported to exist, information and answers regarding the world’s formation are slow in reveal, but monumental, even for the small scale upon which they appear, when encountered given how they contrast the routine of violence.
Owing itself not only to the placement and usage of elements but likewise the prose, The Deep is realized in abstract terms. Crowley keeping presentation low key, the mood is more static than dynamic, forcing the reader to contemplate the drama in terms beyond entertainment. Set on a non-descript, flat world in order to isolate the key human elements, the opera is almost reduced to symbolic terms; the reader is never asked to invest emotionally. A calculated tactic, the result is ciphers emerging from the narrative that the reader puzzles out in relation to one another, something which becomes more and more revealing as the Visitor pursues his quest. Minimalism that is on point, Crowley removes all ornamentation to allow his story the focus it requires in representing his aims.
In the end, The Deep is a solid debut that does the smart thing of not attempting too complex a first novel. Plot and presentation kept simple in order to highlight the themes and ideas at work, it comes across as epic fantasy at first glance, but a second quickly reveals Crowley’s intentions are more ambitious. The short- and long-term views of war square in the novel’s crosshairs, parallels to real-world history feed a re-visioned outlook of large-scale, cyclical human violence, all made patent by the abstract nature of the setting and presentation. While certainly the mainstream genre crowd will be put off by the flatness of Crowley’s delivery and lack of concrete sides or characters to root for, readers with a mind to dig at ideas below the surface will find the material worthwhile, and the usage of science fiction and fantasy tropes subtle.
Posted by Jesse at 8:55 PM