Ready to read something eerie for the unearthly season? The best kind of horror hits close to home, rooted in the real. Rivers Solomon’s 2019 novel “The Deep” is the story of the descendants of African women tossed overboard during the Transatlantic slave trade, women who gave birth to water-breathing merpeople.
The knowledge of how they came to be proved too difficult for every merperson to handle, so they bestow the “gift” to one historian through electrical bonds, allowing them to relive the history viscerally. But, as that history grows, each successive historian bears more weight — until it is Yetu’s turn.
Once a year, this history is shared, and the historian is unburdened for a few days. It would be Yetu’s only chance to flee.
Inspired by the Hugo Award-nominated song of the same name by Daveed Diggs’ rap group Clipping (credited as co-authors on the resulting novel), Solomon’s novella takes place in the world described in its lyrics.
“We were born breathing water as we did in the womb / We built our home on the sea floor / Unaware of the two-legged surface dwellers / Until their world came to destroy ours.”
Solomon leans into Afrofuturism, building upon the song’s utopian society on a sea floor and including anecdotes of climate change and war with the “two-legs” that float in the background, all taking place amid Yetu’s own self-discovery and a burgeoning romance with a two-leg named Oori. Yetu’s people need to change so that their future can as well.
Published in 2019, the story weaves in aspects of fantasy and Black history as well as queer elements. Already living outside of the binary, the merpeople possess both male and female organs and do not follow the rules of heterosexual monogamy, providing a subtle subtext to the plot that is integrated but not integral. Nevertheless, the artful interweaving of this element won Solomon the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for “The Deep” and its exploration of LGBT+ themes.
In addition to being based on Clipping’s lyrics, in an interesting twist, the novel’s afterword explains that this telling of “The Deep” is also inspired by Drexciya, a ‘90s electro duo from Detroit. In the sleeve notes of an album, the pair revealed the name “Drexciya” was derived from an underwater country made up of people who were born from pregnant African women thrown off of slave ships.
For those unfamiliar with Solomon’s work, they are an already acclaimed voice in speculative fiction. Their 2017 debut, “An Unkindness of Ghosts,” won the Firecracker Award and was a finalist for several others. Their latest, a gothic fiction titled “Sorrowland,” won the 2022 Stonewall Book Award and was listed on Time’s 100 Must-Read Book of 2021. With so many accolades behind their name, it is little wonder that Solomon’s “The Deep” and their other works are quick and wonderfully well-written reads, perfect for a brooding season.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. As secretary of the Society of America Travel Writers: Central States Chapter, she prioritizes travel with an ecotourism or human-first focus. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.
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