The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish

by Katya Apekina


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*2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
*Longlisted for The Crook’s Corner Book Prize 
*Longlisted for the 2019 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
*Shortlisted for the 2020 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing for Fiction
*A Best Book of 2018 —Kirkus Reviews, BuzzFeed News, Entropy, LitReactor, LitHub
*35 Over 35 Award 2018
*One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Fall —Vulture, Harper's BAZAAR, BuzzFeed News, Publishers Weekly, The Millions, Bustle, Fast Company

It’s 16-year-old Edie who finds their mother Marianne dangling in the living room from an old jump rope, puddle of urine on the floor, barely alive. Upstairs, 14-year-old Mae had fallen into one of her trances, often a result of feeling too closely attuned to her mother’s dark moods. After Marianne is unwillingly admitted to a mental hospital, Edie and Mae are forced to move from their childhood home in Louisiana to New York to live with their estranged father, Dennis, a former civil rights activist and literary figure on the other side of success.

The girls, grieving and homesick, are at first wary of their father’s affection, but soon Mae and Edie’s close relationship begins to fall apart—Edie remains fiercely loyal to Marianne, convinced that Dennis is responsible for her mother’s downfall, while Mae, suffocated by her striking resemblances to her mother, feels pulled toward their father. The girls move in increasingly opposing and destructive directions as they struggle to cope with outsized pain, and as the history of Dennis and Marianne’s romantic past clicks into focus, the family fractures further.

Moving through a selection of first-person accounts and written with a sinister sense of humor, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish powerfully captures the quiet torment of two sisters craving the attention of a parent they can’t, and shouldn’t, have to themselves. In this captivating debut, Katya Apekina disquietingly crooks the lines between fact and fantasy, between escape and freedom, and between love and obsession.

"The structure, characters and storyline are all refreshingly original, and the writing is nothing short of gorgeous. It's a stunningly accomplished book, and Apekina isn't afraid to grab her readers by the hand and take them to some very dark and very beautiful places."
—Michael Schaub, NPR

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Apekina’s ambitious debut begins in 1997, after teenage sisters Edith and Mae have moved to live with their father in New York City in the wake of their mentally ill mother, Marianne, entering a hospital for treatment. Edith, the older sister, wants to return to Louisiana to care for their mother, while Mae loves the distance and is enjoying getting to know their father, Dennis Lomack, a novelist who’s famous for his depictions of life during the civil rights movement. The girls grow further apart: Edith sets off for Louisiana to help her mother while Mae gets uncomfortably involved in her father’s creative process. Marianne, meanwhile, is portrayed only as a mentally unstable woman, never becoming a fully realized character. The novel attempts, with mixed success, to address many topics—such as mental illness, civil rights, family trauma, and sexual and artistic consent. Though there are some loose threads at the end, Apekina has nevertheless written a confident, piercing novel. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

"The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is brilliantly structured, with multiple characters narrating the events of the novel. It's an unusual technique that Apekina uses to stunning effect, creating a kind of narrative tension that propels the novel forward... The structure, characters and storyline are all refreshingly original, and the writing is nothing short of gorgeous. It's a stunningly accomplished book, and Apekina isn't afraid to grab her readers by the hand and take them to some very dark and very beautiful places."
—Michael Schaub, NPR

"Katya Apekina’s The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish has a dark sense of humor, and an interest in the soul. A layered account of the truths of a torn family, two sisters depart from their broken mother and return to their literary father. The sisters fall apart from each other, one toward her mother and the other toward her father This impressive debut behaves like a great Russian novel transposed onto an American family. Katya Apekina discusses writing an emotional autobiography in a fictional story."
—Michael Silverblatt, Bookworm on KCRW

"It had been a minute since I sat down to read a new novel and found myself completely bowled over by it, swamped in it, enchanted with it... I read the whole thing in one evening, staying up late by the light of my bedside lamp to savor the last pages... Told by an ensemble of narrators and letters, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish delicately unravels layers of family trauma and deeply entrenched injustice."
Claire Fallon, HuffPost

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is a dark, brilliant tapestry... A stunning and feverishly readable debut, it is destined to send the most easy-going of readers spiraling into a book hangover."
Lauren Dostal, Split Lip Magazine

"You'll keep turning the pages, without a doubt."
—Emily Pullen, New York Public Library '9 Books That Are Emotional Roller Coasters'

"This is one of those books that will ruin the fate of whatever's next on your to-be-read pile. The structure, well drawn characters, style and writing (oh the writing!) combine to make this a singular reading experience you'll want to hold onto long after the you've turned the last page. Telling the story through the eyes of multiple narrators creates a pastiche of voices that give it a fevered momentum, holding the reader like grim death throughout. Good luck attempting not to read this in one sitting."
—The Book Table's Best Books of 2018, Javier's Book of the Year, Oak Park, IL

"Sticky and binge-able!"
—Molly Young, Read Like the Wind (March 2019 book recommendation)

"Gender and power dynamics spasm and ripple out of control in the most intimate spaces and, simultaneously, in a broader American context, framed by the 1960s student movements and the New York art scene of the 1990s."
—City Lights Booksellers, recommended by Ivy

"[The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish] has a complex and ambitious structure, a whirl of first-person accounts..."
—Marion Winik, National Book Critics Circle board member

"Apekina presents a fascinating drama while exploring what it means to be an artist and what it means to be a muse within the framework of family. The novel’s ending is sublime."
—Susan Scutti, The Carolina Quarterly

"Dark yet bitingly funny, Apekina's debut evidences depth well worth the ugly."
—Shelf Awareness (Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review)

"A dynamic, fast paced story of two sisters trapped between equally flawed parents, both ill-equipped to put their daughters’ needs above their own.... Katya Apekina delivered debut writing at its best: fresh, gritty, compelling and thoroughly original."
—Susie Boutry, Novel Visits

"I really enjoyed this book. This is one of those books that I missed when I wasn't reading it... It's been a long time since I've liked a book this much." (5 out of 5 stars)
—Vonnie, (Episode 115) 3 Book Girls Podcast

“Sharp... Apekina adroitly employs the perspectives of a wide range of characters to expose complicated dynamics that propel this novel with a keen sense of urgency."
—The National Book Review

"Mental illness and the breakdown of relationships lie at the heart of this debut novel.”
—Lauren Hubbard, Harper's BAZAAR 'The Best New Books to Read This September'

“Apekina’s inventiveness with structure and sentence marks the book’s every page, and the result is a propulsive and electrifying look at how family—and art—can both break people and put them back together again. A dark and unforgettable first book.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"After Edie and Mae’s mother attempts suicide, the girls are sent from Louisiana to their estranged novelist father’s home in New York, lighting the spark for his new masterpiece and the family’s total destruction."
Vulture 'New Books to Read This Fall'

"A story about love and ownership, connection and obsession, this debut novel dives deep into family dynamics."
—Maddy Foley, Bustle '11 Most Anticipated Books Published By Indie Presses To Have On Your Radar In 2018'

“A novel examines the fraught relationship between artist and muse."
Publishers Weekly 'Writers to Watch Fall 2018: Anticipated Debuts'

"With The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, Apekina establishes herself as a formidable voice in fiction — a writer to keep on your radar."
—Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed News 'These Are The Best Books Of Fall 2018'

"Apekina’s debut novel plays with tricky family relationships and the way fact and fantasy, loyalty and obsession, can be so difficult to tease apart."
The Millions 'Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview'

"Ambitious... a confident, piercing novel."
Publishers Weekly

"A hip, little book, told in engaging voice-driven prose. No other novel made me laugh as hard this year as Apekina's."
—Joshua Mohr, LitReactor 'Best Books of 2018'

"The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish exposes more than the inner workings of parent-child relationships and the darker shades of mental illness, it digs into pressing themes of today's political climate and the gendering of society."
Tessa Rose, The Michigan Daily

“The father character, a maniacally selfish writer, made me cringe, to put it lightly!”
—Ottessa Moshfegh in GQ, author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation

"Told polyphonically by an ensemble cast of characters, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish explores the vast disparities between separate perspectives and the moral implications of the artist/muse relationship. [Bookseller] Katharine was captivated by this accomplished debut."
—Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago, 'NEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SEPTEMBER 2018'

"The dysfunctional family drama has been done and again but not like this. Katya Apekina's debut novel, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is a stunning tour de force that tells the story of sisters Edith and Mae, who in the aftermath of their mother's suicide attempt are sent to live with their absentee father, a famed novelist, in New York. From there, personal histories intertwine with the present dropping hints and clues that build up to a torrential climax. The deeper it goes, the uglier it gets."
—Steve Shonder, Anderson's Bookshop La Grange

"Katya Apekina is a writer of great intelligence, both intellectual and emotional; the evidence of which is abundantly clear in her powerful debut novel, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish.”
—Zachary Lazar, author of Sway and I Pity the Poor Immigrant

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish begins with a reunion between two sisters and their estranged artist father. An unlikely intimacy grows out of this unusual situation, and we're shuttled into a strange, beautiful history of this complex, passionate family, a history which involves young love, the Civil Rights movement, and an enduring obsession. I was completely mesmerized by Katya Apekina’s thrilling, heartfelt debut. Funny, suspenseful, touching, and totally unexpected, I dare you not to love it as much as I did. Apekina has talent and heart to spare.”
—Anton DiSclafani, National Bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is an engrossing debut—Apekina’s brilliant story of a family in crisis is a remarkable feat of empathy and insight, guided by unpredictable, propulsive storytelling. I was increasingly and helplessly hooked. I can’t believe this remarkable tour de force is a first novel.”
—J. Ryan Stradal, author of the New York Times Bestseller Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2018-07-31

A debut novel examines the ripple effects of mental illness and betrayal on a broken family.

In 1997, Edith is 16; younger sister Mae is 14. Edith is "headstrong" and loyal: She's spent most of her life caring for her mentally ill mother after her father, Dennis, left the family when she was 4. Mae, nicknamed "Spooks" because of her eerie demeanor, is deeply empathetically connected to their mother in a way that practical Edie is not. When their mother attempts suicide and is hospitalized, the sisters are sent to New York City from Louisiana to live with their father. A famous novelist, Dennis is now faced with Edie's bitterness and resentment at his betrayal and Mae's bottomless emotional need for his attention. But the situation appears to be just the dangerous spark he needs to finally write the masterpiece that his early career predicted, and he is willing now, as he was in his marriage to the girls' mother, to exploit it. Apekina's decision to structure the novel as a kaleidoscopic whirl of perspectives is perfect: We can see how different Mae's and Edie's understandings are of their parents' behavior, and the minor characters that occasionally interject show how the situation appears to those outside the destructive family dynamic. We feel the characters hurtling toward disaster as Edie grows more enraged and turns to her father's neighbor for help in returning to Louisiana to reunite with her mother and as Mae and Dennis grow mutually more obsessed with each other. Apekina's inventiveness with structure and sentence marks the book's every page, and the result is a propulsive and electrifying look at how family—and art—can both break people and put them back together again.

A dark and unforgettable first book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937512750
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Pages: 353
Sales rank: 641,023
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 17 - 18 Years

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