The Deep is a novella which the afterword describes as part of a game of “narrative telephone”, inspired by the work of clipping., an American hip-hop group. I know absolutely nothing about the music, to be honest, so The Deep was my introductory point.
The story follows Yetu, the Historian of the wajinru, a mermaid-like people who were born by magic from pregnant women tossed overboard from slave ships. They have few memories, leaving all of it to be held by their Historian — and Yetu is too fragile, losing her sense of self and drowning in the accumulated memories of her people. During an event in which she passes all the memories on to other wajinru, Yetu flees, hoping to be free of the burden…
There’s an awful lot going on in this novella, especially given it’s pretty short: coming to terms with the past, mental and chronic illness/neurodiversity, moving forward despite trauma, finding your place and your people… Obviously, some things are just taken for granted (there’s no real reason given for why the wajinru were born like that), and some bits of the story are painted in broad strokes. Yetu’s point of view is rather dark and hopeless at times, and she has suicidal impulses as well, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you’re feeling unwell yourself. Nevertheless, it’s not an especially dark novella, somehow — it’s not about wallowing in past awfulness, despite the provocative idea of a human-like people being born from the corpses of pregnant slaves. It could be a lot darker than it is, but actually it finds a way to shine a light.
I enjoyed the character of Yetu in some ways — her determination to make space for herself — and in other ways she frustrated me so much. She just… runs away, leaving her people in the torment she’s fleeing, and that’s not really something I can relate to. The whole bit flopping around in the tide pool was extra frustrating. Like, of course she needed a period of healing, but… gah, the self-pity. I did like her matter-of-fact conversations with Oori, at the same time.
Overall, I found it beautifully written, and the structure works well, despite the repetitions (which I think bothered some folks). I was surprised how much got told and felt in such a small space. I found the ending came a little easily… but then of course that’s what anxiety and mental illness is like: it holds you back from seeing an obvious possible solution.