(Review of Katya Apekina’s stunning debut novel, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish. )
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses and all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again
In the name of nursery rhyme remixology, first let us add the soothing menace of a Pink Floyd soundscape to the tale, and then let us peer into the fragmented disaster that the fallen Humpty has become, and realize that he was never an anthropomorphized egg-man at all, but rather a family incestuously consolidated into a single mutated unit, a dangerously complex and fragile organism that, in breaking apart, becomes its own prospective savior and redeemer. As you keep looking—and you will, because this specific accident has you in its grip, like a shock collar at Sunday mass—you will notice how the congealed blob that comprised Humpty’s interior is slowly disassembling into individual parts: mother, father, two daughters. How each of these exposed selves will react to their blunt individuation, their emergence from a cystic sublet, remains to be seen. And so you watch, and listen, and find yourself drawn into a narrative that is at once familiar and remote. Welcome to family, as modern American gothic, in the half-lit world of Katya Apekina’s The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish.
First, let me start by saying that Apekina’s debut novel compelled me to do something that I have not done in a very long time: read an entire book, cover to cover, in a single night. There are certain writers who excel at meting out their prose with deceptive flatness, or muted lucidity, which serves to flood the undercurrents with depth-charges and felt-resonance (Raymond Carver and Marguerite Duras being two prime examples). It is the “awesome simplicity,” of which the jazz musician Charles Mingus raved, and which Apekina deftly demonstrates in her rendering of a searing family drama. Subtly weaving together a tapestry of voices and shifting perspectives, the novel centers on two teenage daughters—Edith, sixteen, and Mae, fourteen—who go to live with their dad in New York, after their mother has been hospitalized for a suicide attempt and breakdown. Their dad, about whom Mae has no memories and Edith has a scattered scarcity from her earliest years, is a famous writer and cultural icon, renowned for both his literary legacy and civil rights activism in the 1960s.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.