REVIEW: Short reflection on The Deepwater Bride

For the uninitiated — which I’m guessing will be a lot of you — The Deepwater Bride is a short story by Tamsyn Muir; it’s about Lovecraftian seer-women and eldritch nightmares with a penchant for Starbucks. And it is also so much better and smarter than I just made it sound. Here be spoilers; tread carefully.

Quite apart from anything else, it’s an incredibly well-put-together short story. Everything in it builds inexorably to the punchline, which felt as inevitable after a few minutes’ thought as it felt startling and brilliant in the moment of first reading. The voice of your humble narrator — one Hester Blake, the most recent descendent of an ancient line of seers and also a goth-looking high schooler who is as precocious as she is self-consciously the outsider — is gorgeously idiosyncratic and absolutely faultless. The characters who surround her are distinct and well-drawn from their first appearances. Technically speaking, I couldn’t fault it. It is so nice to be lying on your bed, kicking your heels with joy as you read a story whose every word is basically delicious.

My favourite part, though, and the part I wanted to write about, was Rainbow. Rainbow Kipley is the fake-tanned, iPhone-toting object of Hester’s immediate contempt, whom Hester also identifies as being the fated bride of the Lovecraftian leviathan king. The story is largely centred around their bonding — Hester’s distaste for Rainbow’s short-shorts and musical inclinations (Nicki Minaj) soon blurs into a wish to abdicate her familial responsibilities and help Rainbow to escape her doom. As the author would have it, The Deepwater Bride is very much a love story, and it becomes increasingly obviously so as matters progress; I was kind of delighted by Rainbow’s climactic (and hilariously, openly disingenuous) declaration of no homo.

But the really brilliant thing? Rainbow Kipley is secretly terrifying. Hester tells her she’s the destined bride, and she’s calm, curious, not afraid. Later, Hester expects her to be shocked and terrified when a man unexpectedly leaps off a roof onto a spiked fence; she’s gleeful, fascinated. For a while, it looks as though she’s just a little spacey; the tension rises to the point at which it’s impossible even for Hester to ignore that she’s deeply, profoundly unsettling. And that’s what I loved best of all. Rainbow is hell in booty shorts and an excess of mascara. She embodies that kind of ‘trashy,’ ‘grotesque’ femininity that pushes femme performance all the way past its socially-acceptable limits, and she’s not in any way risible; she’s not stupid, she’s not a joke. She’s the love interest. Or rather, Hester is the love interest, and Rainbow is the all-powerful, timeless, unknowable abomination.

Hell is a teenage girl. Hell is, specifically, the kind of teenage girl that we find most transgressive and threatening: the kind of teenage girl who goes too far, who’s too obvious and too loud. The Deepwater Bride is a story that lets a girl like Rainbow be the eldritch nightmare, and also totally at ease in her own (queer, female) skin; more than that, it lets Hester say yes, and find where she fits, too. If you want to read this story — and I can’t recommend highly enough that you do — it’s in F&SF magazine’s July/August 2015 issue, which you can order here.

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