There is a particular pleasure that comes from reading a book by Maria Lewis, the happy result of the author’s singular ability to seamlessly blend the mythical and the magically real into the ordinary everyday to the point where the most outlandish of concepts suddenly seem not just possible but eminently real and touchable.
As with her two previous novels Who’s Afraid? and Who’s Afraid Too?, It Came From the Deep trades off the author’s deep and much-declared love of horror and the supernatural, in this case the kinds of beings who lurk deep in black lagoons.
Or in the case of Lewis’s superlative YA debut, Lake Pelutz, a made-up lake on Australia’s Gold Coast around which is arrayed the homes of the rich and the fabulous, all of whom are no doubt dedicated to the ostentatiously glitzy lifestyle for which the Gold Coast is famed (even if it is one lived by only a fraction of the populace), and in which lurks, well saying too much would spoil the fun of it all but let’s just say not lots of fish (especially not lots of fish and more than a few scared eels).
We actually don’t delve too deeply into the central mystery off the story (though the first chapter is enticingly mysterious) a narratively strategic masterstroke that gives us ample time to get to know Kaia Craig, champion iron woman and an elite athlete from local sporting royalty – her name is the famed Ken “KC” Craig who surfs the world and is everyone’s friend – who has the world at her feet.
“Kaia had become good at wearing a mask over the past few months. She’d never had reason to before, but now she’d been taught to keep her face neutral for the cameras as she left the courthouse, bulbs flashing and reporters shouting horrendous questions to her. She had learned how to mask her hurt when someone would utter the word ‘murderer’ at training, loud enough that they knew she heard them.” P. 26)
Or more precisely, had.
A series of events for which she is not directly culpable but for which some sections of the sporting community lay blame unfairly at her feet, has shaken her usual sunny confidence, and shattered the idyll in which she has lived with her dad and older brother and iron man competitor Storm ever since her mother decamped to Hawai’i when she was a kid.
Her world is safe and certain until fate conspires otherwise and it’s in this media-spotlighted maelstrom that Kaia, held aloft by a stoic shutdown, her family and close friends like Cabby, finds out there is far more in heaven and on earth than the minds of Gold Coast sporting people can dream.
And Kaia, used to success and fulfilled possibility, has hitherto been able to dream very big indeed.
But what she discovers one night in Lake Pelutz when she is attacked while on a night run, proves that she hasn’t been dreaming big enough and that there are events playing out in the backwaters and palatial homes of her home city that dwarf her imagination with their sheer paranormal audacity.
It’s impossible for Kaia to dismiss these occurrences, no matter how utterly preposterous they seem and as she begins to dig into the mystery of an elderly marine scientist, his experiments and the tantalising presence, or rather absence, of some rather large and mysterious, she starts to discover how big her world really can be.
It Came From the Deep deftly and engrossingly balances a slew of fascinating reveals and nonstop action with the kind of introspective rumination that would slow novels by other less-accomplished writers.
Rather than these two sometimes disparate elements bashing hard up against each other, they work as a beautiful whole, much as they do in the author’s first two werewolf-centric novels, imbuing It Came From the Deep with a capacity to be both spinetinglingly good and calmly existential reflective.
It’s a potently rich combination that keeps you reading not simply out of need to know what and who happens next, but out of a deep abiding desire to hang in there with Kaia who is bearing the weight of the world on her sports-honed shoulders, and soon another far more extraordinary weight entirely.
“Amos’s voice broke as he recalled his final moments with his father. He looked down at the surface of the water, which was still rippling thanks to the rain. Kaia felt like she was finally able to see his face and properly judge the emotions that were dancing there. No longer hidden behind a Cast Away beard, the dark, almost black colour of his eyebrows only highlighted his grief … Kaia felt like she was encroaching on his grief, but she didn’t want him to feel like she was abandoning him.” (P. 143-144)
It Came From the Deep succeeds, apart from its boundless imagination and seamlessly good imagination because it never forgets that what we crave from any story is a sense of connection with the main character.
Because the time is taken to introduce to Kaia so fully and insightfully, to ground her in a world that makes sense and feels wholly real (with friends and family who feel closeknit and the kind of people you would want around you in a pinch … or two), all the paranormal elements, which as noted slide seamlessly into narrative place, feels organic and utterly believable.
Once you read the book, and I urge you to do just that if you like great escapist but emotionally-evocative stories, you will understand just how great a feat this is and how wonderfully Lewis has told a story that is completely human and a whole lot more besides.
If only all paranormal books were this expansively imaginative, breathtakingly human and endlessly, tantalisingly beguiling; It Came From the Deep rewards us at every page in ways that will speak to your heart, engage your mind and excite your soul in a way only the very best writers, and their equally dazzlingly good stories, can.