You probably read my book reviews to figure out whether or not a book should make it to your TBR list, and maybe even how soon you should read it. I’m solidly on the fence about The Seep, which reminds me of Annihilation, only less eerie, and about ten times more overt. So let me give you a touch of the first chapter (minus the bookend chapter) so you can get the flavor of the writing:
“When the aliens first made contact, Trina and her not-yet-wife, Deeba, threw one of their famous dinner parties for a select group of friends. It wasn’t difficult to keep the guest list small. Everyone was too nervous to travel far, the subways and buses deserted but for the most intrepid or desperate travelers. They invited two beloved couples who happened to live close by, and who wondrously had never met. Emma and Mariam came first, with two types of hard cheeses, three types of olives, gluten-free rice crackers, tubs of spicy hummus. Emma was French and Mariam was from Cario, so they both really knew how to put together a cheese plate. Their little party was completed by Katharine and Laura, the friendly, easygoing lesbians from Tennessee. They came with copious amounts of alcohol (one can always depend on the lapsed Christians to bring the bar): pale ale for the butches, and drinkable red wine. Introductions were made, drinks were poured, cheese and olives exclaimed over…. A generous feeling swirled around them like a melody, like a scent. The essence of a perfect dinner party. How have we never met before? they asked again and again, but what they were really saying was, How have I only just begun to love you?”
That should tell you whether or not you are well-matched to this little book–verging on novella, really–that has less to do with aliens, and more to do with the psychology of self via identity politics. It is less grounded in theory than in artistic extrapolation, but there are lots of intriguing ideas, with profuse grey areas. Given the chutzpah to take on the issues of identity politics, it feels surprisingly non-confrontational; much like the Seep, you will find yourself agreeing with most positions, even as they oppose each other.
It’s a fast read if you read it like a normal book. I think I finished easily in a couple of hours. The prose seems simple and straightforward, facilitating speed, but it also lends itself to a kind of beauty worth savoring. The above dinner party scene is one such example; the emotion of it quite touching. The downside of such prose, of course, is that it distills complex thoughts and actions into relatively bite-sized pieces, which is a disservice to many of the concepts around identity. Porter instead tries to get the reader to feel their way through the issues along with the main character, Trina.
The actual alien and post-alien transition is mostly alluded to, with almost nothing on a grand political scale, so people hoping for a traditional first-contact or post-social upheaval story will be very disappointed. There’s a couple of references to alternate protest communities (which brings to memory the various responses covered in The Last Policeman), but they are peripheral to the issue of Trina clinging to her individuality in its many guises. The Seep is biological, virtually elemental, and it’s effect on the psyche has “the nuance of a Golden Retriever.” While one may avoid reveling in it, it is about as avoidable as air pollution.
Thematically, it is also very much about the grief of growing apart from an intimate partner and what living with that grief looks like. Despite that compounded with Porter’s desire to have us empathize with Trina, it is not hopeless book as much as one of curiosity. I ended up enjoying it, although I do feel like it was a little facile in the approach to what it means to be an individual, particularly as defined by identity politics. Still, I’m speaking from a head-center approach, so I have to admire the fact that it kept me intrigued. This is one where the disclaimer ‘your mileage may vary’ will apply to the nth degree.