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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 mo 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.


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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 mo 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.

30 review for The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish

  1. 4 out of 5

    Wyndy

    Obsession. Madness. Catharsis by fire. This is one of the darkest, most gorgeous books I’ve read in years - I truly hope it gets the literary attention it deserves. The title initially piqued my interest, then the blurb sold me. I rarely jump at a newly published debut but in this case, I’m glad I followed my instincts. This book is deep. It is charged. It is uncomfortable and mucky. It is also impressive and addictive and thought provoking. Raised in Louisiana by their mother and sent as teens Obsession. Madness. Catharsis by fire. This is one of the darkest, most gorgeous books I’ve read in years - I truly hope it gets the literary attention it deserves. The title initially piqued my interest, then the blurb sold me. I rarely jump at a newly published debut but in this case, I’m glad I followed my instincts. This book is deep. It is charged. It is uncomfortable and mucky. It is also impressive and addictive and thought provoking. Raised in Louisiana by their mother and sent as teens to live in New York City with their estranged father, sisters Edith and Mae are battered by the relentless psychoses of their parents, Marianne and Dennis. As the girls’ lives unfold through alternating first-person voices, we see the vast differences in their personalities and their needs and their allegiances. Each has her own perception of reality and her own way of dealing with the fallout. And the fallout is everywhere they turn. We also see the chasm, deeper than their age difference, develop between Marianne and Dennis: “It was after Marianne came to New York that Dennis began writing in earnest. The more he wrote the more dazed and uncertain she seemed. He was an emotional vampire. He needed her to be in a certain state to be his muse.” Along for this gritty ride are several unforgettable side characters: Rose, the girls’ aunt; Doreen, Marianne’s closest friend; Amanda, Dennis’s girlfriend; Charlie, Edith’s new friend; and Cronus, the cat. From NPR’s review: “The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish resembles a Southern Gothic novel — but with a contemporary twist . . . 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.” She actually grabbed me by the throat, and the heart . . . this story will haunt me for quite a while. 5 unputdownable stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I'm finally back to this book after including it in a book speed dating episode of the podcast last November. It had been long enough that I started over from the beginning. It is difficult to express how much this book will suck you in, and how good it is, and then to remember it is a debut! I can't wait to see what she does next. Marianne is the single mother of two girls - Edie (16) and Mae (14.) After the older daughter saves her mother from a suicide attempt, both girls go live with the fathe I'm finally back to this book after including it in a book speed dating episode of the podcast last November. It had been long enough that I started over from the beginning. It is difficult to express how much this book will suck you in, and how good it is, and then to remember it is a debut! I can't wait to see what she does next. Marianne is the single mother of two girls - Edie (16) and Mae (14.) After the older daughter saves her mother from a suicide attempt, both girls go live with the father they've never known in New York. The chapters rotate between characters, and at first that's just the daughters and mother. But as more characters come into the story, they start getting added to the mix, sometimes before you understand the role they play. I love alternating narratives, and enjoyed the spin the author took on them in this case. Most of those point-of-view chapters are in the time period of the suicide attempt but occasionally there will be artifacts from the past, like a letter, newspaper article, or psychiatrist notes from an earlier time (the 1960s when their parents met, or the 1980s when the mother had her first psychotic break.) And then an even more occasional chapter comes from someone in the present day rather than the 1990s where most of the novel takes place, adding some perspective as an adult. I think part of what I liked about this novel is that I didn't always know where it was going. You think it's a story about one thing and one set of characters but it changes as it goes on, and the additional information you get as a reader adds a spin to what you thought you knew. I appreciated how the daughters have had such different experiences with their mother, despite the very close age difference. This is an important and well-observed distinction that matters from the first page to the last. This gave them reasons to want different things and to act entirely different from one another. Just excellent and scratches that itch I've had since Black Wave, although in subtler ways.

  3. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    Ruthlessly gothic, but with just a dash of Jodi-Picoult-like familial feeling so that the story became somehow all the more troubling than if it had been purely gothic. The novel reminded me of last year's magnificently terrifying horror film "Hereditary," which like this novel also features an artist-parent who tortures her children, plus a smidge of self-immolation. But because this novel comes to me outside of a tidy genre framework, and because it instead just barely nudges into a "maybe thi Ruthlessly gothic, but with just a dash of Jodi-Picoult-like familial feeling so that the story became somehow all the more troubling than if it had been purely gothic. The novel reminded me of last year's magnificently terrifying horror film "Hereditary," which like this novel also features an artist-parent who tortures her children, plus a smidge of self-immolation. But because this novel comes to me outside of a tidy genre framework, and because it instead just barely nudges into a "maybe this could happen in the real world" space, I found the story unusually disturbing, and a little confusing to read. It's in something of an 'uncanny valley' for me that way. If the novel were pure genre then its excesses would be more enjoyable. But the novel instead asks me to feel real feelings, for situations that aren't realistic, and I guess I resented that a bit.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    Update, June 2021: This was one of my top five books for 2019, and shortly after that initial read, I was so enamored of it, I led a group read of it for one of my GR groups - and most everyone there loved it and gave it 5 stars also. I encouraged my BFF (of 46 years and counting) to read it, but she DNF'd it back then on her first attempt - but said she'd give it another try if I'd buddy read it with her - hence this revisit now. Happy to say, I still REALLY enjoyed it (as is she now) - and with Update, June 2021: This was one of my top five books for 2019, and shortly after that initial read, I was so enamored of it, I led a group read of it for one of my GR groups - and most everyone there loved it and gave it 5 stars also. I encouraged my BFF (of 46 years and counting) to read it, but she DNF'd it back then on her first attempt - but said she'd give it another try if I'd buddy read it with her - hence this revisit now. Happy to say, I still REALLY enjoyed it (as is she now) - and with my 'mind like a sieve' much of it was fresh to me. There is something just so compelling to me about the story and characters, I loved the multiple POVs, and I can't think of any other book that has done this better. Entreat any of you who haven't done so yet to get your hands on it ASAP - and can not wait for Apekina to publish her second novel. Original review, Feb. 2019: My first 5 star review of 2019 - and even though we're barely into February, this may prove to be my favorite book of the year - it will definitely be in my top 5. Astonishingly assured for a debut novel, it falls into none of the traps usually encountered by such. The structure is unique, the characters all unusual and compelling, the plot weaves back and forth in time with over 20 different narrators, yet one never loses track of where one is, or what is happening. Much like my favorite book of 2016, Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone, this is a harrowing view into how one member's mental illness affects an entire family and assorted friends and strangers. Fun fact : this has exactly one page more than that execrable piece of excrement Milkman, and whereas that took ten torturous days for me to get through its mind numbing awfulness, this took me a day and a half. Enough said.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    A mother’s suicide attempt causes two young teenage daughters to reunite with their estranged father. So much is uncovered during this time where history is reevaluated and each character is affected in their own unique way. This book is DEEPLY complex. With mental health playing a major factor in the murkiness of the all the relationships. The relationship between Mae and her father in particular is disturbing and unsettling. Nuanced with tender violence, what transpires quickly becomes a sicke A mother’s suicide attempt causes two young teenage daughters to reunite with their estranged father. So much is uncovered during this time where history is reevaluated and each character is affected in their own unique way. This book is DEEPLY complex. With mental health playing a major factor in the murkiness of the all the relationships. The relationship between Mae and her father in particular is disturbing and unsettling. Nuanced with tender violence, what transpires quickly becomes a sickening kind of love. Mae becomes so infatuated with winning her father’s attention and love, she slowly tries to morph into her mother’s image, her idolisation of her father really becomes a fixation that leads to disastrous consequences. Meanwhile Edith’s denial of her mother’s mental issues undermines her ability to connect with those trying to support her, she maintains an image of her mother that compromises her own stability. The sister’s bond is tested and friction between the two adds another layer to the families complexities. There is so much depth and emotion in this book. It isn’t the easiest of reads due to the difficult subject matter but it was a book that feels so raw and intricate with side plots that really help develop each character beautifully. The book really shows you the strength of familial bonds despite all the flaws and fragility that those bonds are built upon. The deep psychological scars that each child carries when one or both parents are deeply impacted with mental health problems. This book is pure art and it’s perfect in its portrayal of a seriously imperfect family. Hats off this is a truly awe inspiring and original debut from a very promising new author.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Jacob

    Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I find it almost unfathomable that this is a debut novel. I can’t wait to see what comes next from Apekina.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Brody

    I'm not sure how this book got onto my radar but I'm so thankful it did. It is a novel of depth and insight, examining the dynamics of a family plagued by loss and mental illness. The characters are fleshed out and the author, Katya Apekina, brings each and every one of them to life. As the novel begins, Edie, 16 years old, and her sister Mae, 13 years old, are removed from their mother's care in Louisiana and sent to live with their father Dennis in Manhattan. Their mother, Marianne, has been pl I'm not sure how this book got onto my radar but I'm so thankful it did. It is a novel of depth and insight, examining the dynamics of a family plagued by loss and mental illness. The characters are fleshed out and the author, Katya Apekina, brings each and every one of them to life. As the novel begins, Edie, 16 years old, and her sister Mae, 13 years old, are removed from their mother's care in Louisiana and sent to live with their father Dennis in Manhattan. Their mother, Marianne, has been placed in a psychiatric hospital for an unknown length of time. Dennis has not been in the girls' lives for 12 years. Edie feels a tremendous loyalty to her mother and believes that allowing herself any closeness or intimacy with Dennis would be a betrayal to Marianne . On the other hand, Mae is excited by this chance to get to know her father. Dennis is a literary icon who has not written a best selling book in decades. He was one of the original freedom riders of the 1960's and wrote a novel about this time in his life. Unfortunately, his novel used his perspectives and attitudes towards his friends and peers, not always in a complimentary manner. He tries to write but Marianne was his muse and she hasn't been in his life since he left her 12 years ago. Once very close, Edie and Mae's relationship becomes more and more conflicted as they navigate their new life without their mother and with a previously absent father. Mae has no previous memories of her father so he becomes an idol in her eyes, someone she wants to love and be loved by. Edie has memories of his leaving and, along with the sense of betrayal, she feels rage and pain. All she can think about is rescuing her mother and going back to their home in Louisiana. Ms. Apekana's understanding of mental illness is superb. I haven't read such a good portrayal of a family in crisis since 'Housekeeping' by Marilynne Robinson. The descriptions of the girls trying to parent their mother in order to keep their nuclear family together brought tears to my eyes. The story is told from different perspectives. Mae and Edie are the primary protagonists; then there is Dennis, along with the people who share his life now and those from the past. The novel is structured like a collage, a beautiful piece of art that can be viewed differently depending on the angle and perspective with which it is seen. The author is also well-versed in psychology and mythology, and metaphors are plentiful throughout the narrative. I can only say that I was shaken to the core by this novel's evolution. It took me to places that spoke to a part of me that most writing never touches. Do yourself a favor. Read this book and recommend it to all your friends.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Hannah Gadsby (Nanette), who was raped at seventeen, asks why we aggrandize artists like Picasso— who was in a relationship with a seventeen- year- old— and whose legacy will only further perpetuate the dissemination of patriarchal views and abuse women have been forced to swallow throughout history. She says of art: “High art? I’m going to call it guys: Bullshit. High art, my arse. The history of Western art is just the history of men painting women like their flesh vases for their dick flowers Hannah Gadsby (Nanette), who was raped at seventeen, asks why we aggrandize artists like Picasso— who was in a relationship with a seventeen- year- old— and whose legacy will only further perpetuate the dissemination of patriarchal views and abuse women have been forced to swallow throughout history. She says of art: “High art? I’m going to call it guys: Bullshit. High art, my arse. The history of Western art is just the history of men painting women like their flesh vases for their dick flowers.” It’s impossible not to squirm and sweat, as she stands, almost completely stationary at a microphone, and deconstructs everything we have been taught about art and the artist. Fuck cubism, right?Which is where we are as a society. Relearning men and women’s roles in history, and rethinking our own moral standards. Who gets a legacy? Who gets to stand on the pedestal? Whose voice gets to be heard?These ideas must have been on Katya Apekina’s mind too, as she wrote “The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish”. “i was the one, after all, who chose the name Cassandra. apollo spits in my mouth & now nobody believes me. those thick alligator teardrops sliding down his cheeks as he suffocates me. for my own good! As he squeezes me from the bottom up.”Sixteen- year- old Edie finds her mother, Marianne, hanging in the living room from the end of a jump rope. Mae, fourteen, is upstairs, in a trance, subconsciously aware that her mother is in peril, but unable, or unwilling to involve herself in the unfolding drama. Marianne lives, but is sent to a psychiatric hospital, and Edie and Mae are whisked away to New York City to live with their father who they’ve not seen in twelve years.Their father is Dennis Lomack—famous author, and Apollo to Marianne’s Cassandra. Apollo gives Cassandra the gift of prophecy, but then spits in her mouth, which taints her power, so no one will ever believe her. Dennis is Marianne’s Apollo. He meets her when she’s ten, and she becomes his muse. His sister Rose describes her brother’s feelings: “I remember Denny writing me to say he’d met the girl he was going to marry, but that he would have to wait a while. He fell in love with her instantly when she was a kid. Not in a perverted way, but he just knew. He waited for her to grow up and then he married her.” Marianne is Dennis’ muse. The source of his creativity. His most famous book about his role in the Civil Rights Movement, “Yesterday’s Bonefires” was written in “Marianne’s blood”. Marianne liked to say that Dennis “liked his birds with their wings broken”, and of course by “birds” she means women. He liked to feel her small and broken and in need. See: the beginning of the book as she dangles from the end of a rope.Edie and Mae take their mother’s suicide attempt very differently. Edie is angry, but loyal to her mother, and convinced that her mother’s illness derives from something Dennis has done (not far off). She fights with Dennis, and eventually flees New York and her father with the downstairs neighbor, Charlie. Charlie is twenty- five. Edie is sixteen, and very broken. Charlie is Edie’s means to and end. She wants to see her mother again, rescue her from the hospital, and get her old life back. Sex has recently become a part of Edie’s life, but she’s not sure what to do with it yet; her mother’s never been present enough to explain things to her daughters. Edie is angry, and her reaction to the life she’d been dealt feels more normal. Mae is different.Mae is the reflection of her mother. Something that Dennis quickly notices. Mae’s identity is tied tightly with Marianne’s. When Marianne is hanging from the ceiling of the living room, and Mae is in her room in a trance, Mae is channeling her mother. This connection to her mother makes Mae less sympathetic to Marianne. She instantly prefers living with her father. Slowly, Marianne starts to creep into Mae’s psyche, and like a possession, Mae begins to treat Dennis like a man, rather than her father. “I had an incredible talent for being Dad’s muse. It was easy to convince myself that as Mom’s understudy his feelings for her were meant for me.”It feels like the characters are standing in front of you, reaching into their chests, pulling out their heart, and then taking a big bite. In an effort to avoid penetrating the fourth wall, you stand back, and watch the cannibalism unfold. [Note: there is no cannibalism in this book]There are moments of haunting in this story. The structure itself alludes to something grander. The story is told through a kind of testimony structure. It might be easier to imagine it as an accumulation of evidence attesting to the events that surrounded Marianne’s attempted suicide. The witnesses include Edie, Marianne, Dennis’ girlfriends, Doreen (Marianne’s Power of Attorney and childhood acquaintance), Dennis’ sister Rose, Dennis’ friends, but—never Dennis. Other than witnesses, there are excerpts from letters, telephone conversations, book reviews, and interviews. Edie’s chapters are dated 1997, but most of the other witness accounts (assuming they’re witness accounts) aren’t dated. This included most of Mae’s testimony. One of Mae’s chapters was dated 2102.So, a haunted book. Who’s writing it? Why? In the context of the current political moment, there could not be a timelier book. This is a story about who gets to write history. It’s about all the voices that have been silenced or reinvented through the eyes on men. It is about women being believed and respected.But it is also about family, and more specifically motherhood. “She talked about having children. She said it was the point when her husband finally succeeded in invading her. He deformed her—not just her body, but something at the very center of her was stretched and defiled.” Marianne is not a likeable character. She is not a good mother. But, she’s a character that deserves more than a passing glance. Although most of her story was told secondhand, her voice was one of the most compelling—it felt like she was Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath rolled up into a travel size package.“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I've a call.” by Sylvia PlathThe ending in eviscerating and perfect. Please read this book. Thanks.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Dostal

    You are standing in the middle of a room. A girl approaches, presses your hand, and says, “I want to tell you a story.” She does not get very far when another girl enters from another door. She skips up, presses your other hand, and says, “Don’t listen to her. Listen to me.” Soon you are caught up in a tug-of-war, opposing versions of the same cruel story tugging you first right, then left, then right again. Your body is suspended in air, a forgotten token of their battling tales, and all the wh You are standing in the middle of a room. A girl approaches, presses your hand, and says, “I want to tell you a story.” She does not get very far when another girl enters from another door. She skips up, presses your other hand, and says, “Don’t listen to her. Listen to me.” Soon you are caught up in a tug-of-war, opposing versions of the same cruel story tugging you first right, then left, then right again. Your body is suspended in air, a forgotten token of their battling tales, and all the while, voices keep entering the room, commenting, taking sides, attacking, denying, or dismissing the story entirely. Thus begins Katya Apekina’s debut novel The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish. After their mother, Marianne, tries to hang herself, two sisters, Edith and Mae, are sent to live with their estranged father, best-selling author Dennis Lomack, in New York. For 14-year-old Mae, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Long held captive by her mother’s mental instability, Mae is eager to live a new life in the sunlight of her father’s perfection. 16-year-old Edith is less enthused. She has never believed her baby sister’s stories of their mother’s madness—how Marianne would wake Mae in the middle of the night to tail strangers in their car or skinny dip in murky Louisiana swamps. Their life was eccentric, sure, and Edith found herself caretaking much of the time, but wasn’t it beautiful? And weren’t they responsible to put things right again? Besides, Edith tries to reason with Mae, Dennis will only leave them again. It is in his nature. At odds with the versions of their parents they have chosen, and with a tapestry of voices chiming in at every turn, the sisters choose diverging paths, leading both into devastating futures. The Deeper the Water is largely a book about madness, populated by characters driven by their various instabilities. But it is also about truth and whose stories we allow to be told. These layered, complex characters step over each other in their attempt to right the record, and in this, Apekina poses a fundamental question about recollected trauma: who do we believe? The successful father, the mad mother, the unstable teens, the ex-friends, the colleagues, the lovers, the relatives; everyone has their opinions, and everyone wants to be heard. But when the stakes are so high, is it more important to find a rational center or to listen to the girls whose lives have been torn apart and to take them at their word? This question (and Apekina’s answer) is best summed up with an anecdote: the author has said that one potential agent, in a depressingly status-quo move, suggested that she rewrite the novel from the dad’s perspective. But Apekina utterly rejected the idea that the girls’ father—a best-selling male author who leeches the life out of those around him for inspiration—had any right to have his version of events put down for posterity. This leaves us with the grieving, the young, the victimized, and the mad, and Apekina’s authorial voice telling us that, yes, this is truth. It is contradictory, and it is truth. Believe them. The Deeper the Water is a dark, brilliant tapestry. It is a murky pool filled with dangerous beasts, their dark bodies just cresting the surface before disappearing into the depths. A stunning and feverishly readable debut, it is destined to send the most easy-going of readers spiraling into a book hangover. Review originally published at Split Lip Magazine

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Got to think for a minute....this book, these characters.....a debut novel? What?! The complexity, the depth, the darkness.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carmel Hanes

    "Sometimes it feels like you and I grew up in different houses." "It's hard sometimes to know where you end and where others begin." These quotes are a lens into this book for me. The format of this novel moves from perspective to perspective, and bounces between the past and the present. This can often result in a disjointed read, but in this case it worked beautifully to paint a portrait of events in a variety of hues. The main perspectives are Mae and Edith, two sisters forced to suddenly go li "Sometimes it feels like you and I grew up in different houses." "It's hard sometimes to know where you end and where others begin." These quotes are a lens into this book for me. The format of this novel moves from perspective to perspective, and bounces between the past and the present. This can often result in a disjointed read, but in this case it worked beautifully to paint a portrait of events in a variety of hues. The main perspectives are Mae and Edith, two sisters forced to suddenly go live with a father they don't know due to their mother's illness. But along the way, we also get glimpses into the memories and thoughts of other characters who have known the girls or their parents, providing additional historical strokes to the portrait. As the story unfolds, the multiple perspectives beg the question--what do we really know about each other and events? Everyone filters the actual events through their own lens of personality, mood, needs, expectations, and challenges, which results in everyone touching a different part of the elephant and thinking they have it "right". The novel addresses some troubling themes, such as mental illness, family dysfunction, absent parents (either physically or psychologically), the nature of love and attraction, cherishing versus owning, using others for our purposes, the blurry lines between love and obsession (and lack of appropriate boundaries), and self-expression and self-identity. These heavy themes are handled in such a way that the book does not feel burdensome or overwhelming. It felt more like gently peeling layers off to reveal what festered. It was a fascinating journey. The prose and thoughts expressed were exquisite in their simple elegance. Living in the same household with the same people does not equal having the same experiences, and this story highlights that beautifully. How we relate to each other, how our unique needs drive our behavior and interpretations is obvious throughout the novel, making the diverse paths followed understandable, even when tragic. This book is well worth the read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Some people should never have children. Imagine a couple, so passionately in love, but so mentally ill that it causes both of them to break with reality. The father a talented author, the mother his muse, two daughters collateral damage. This is one of the darkest novels I've read in a while and I can't say I enjoyed it BUT it was propulsive. Told in short chapters with rotating multiple points of view (too many IMHO) the writing is undeniably good, the characterizations strong. If you love dark th Some people should never have children. Imagine a couple, so passionately in love, but so mentally ill that it causes both of them to break with reality. The father a talented author, the mother his muse, two daughters collateral damage. This is one of the darkest novels I've read in a while and I can't say I enjoyed it BUT it was propulsive. Told in short chapters with rotating multiple points of view (too many IMHO) the writing is undeniably good, the characterizations strong. If you love dark themes and small press, this book is for you. I will seek out more Katya Apekina and more Two Dollar Radio (publisher). I deducted one star because no family has this many mentally ill people.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    To borrow the famous Leo Tolstoy quote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And when mental illness is brought into the mix, the family tales become even more differentiated and unique. The fragmented family in this propulsive debut are parents Marianne—who has barely survived a suicide attempt at the book’s opening—and Dennis, a legendary novelist who is an “emotional vampire”, sucking at the essence of those who love him to fuel his muse. Their two dau To borrow the famous Leo Tolstoy quote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And when mental illness is brought into the mix, the family tales become even more differentiated and unique. The fragmented family in this propulsive debut are parents Marianne—who has barely survived a suicide attempt at the book’s opening—and Dennis, a legendary novelist who is an “emotional vampire”, sucking at the essence of those who love him to fuel his muse. Their two daughters, Edith and Mae, are suddenly forced to live with Dennis after Marianne’s act of desperation. As readers, we are privy to the alternating views of the headstrong Edith, who only wishes to return to her mentally ill mother, and her dreamy younger sister Mae, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother and is drawn to her father. Between these narratives are the voices from ancillary characters, who provide perspective, fill in the blanks for the reader, and serve as a Greek chorus. It is easy to provide spoilers, which I do not wish to do. I will say this: Mae’s trajectory is piercingly original and totally riveting. I found myself racing through interceding pages to get back to Mae’s narrative, which contains a power that is skin to Kathryn Harrison’s excellent book Exposure. I did not feel quite as connected to Edie’s part. One of the reasons is a personal quirk: when an author introduces a stuttering character, it is best to simply present that the character is a stutterer instead of consistently using prose like, “He says, no she wasn’t b-b-b-beautiful”, which provides undue attention to a secondary character. Edie’s tale was needed to contrast to Mae’s but it paled in power next to it. The chorus of voices also was not very differentiated. I get it: it is “background noise” for the orations of the two main characters. But I think of Tomas Gonzelez’s book The Storm, which used a similar conceit to much stronger effect. These criticisms may imply that I did not like the book and that would not be truthful. I thought Katya Apekina wrote a stunningly heartfelt book without shying away from the debris caused by mental illness and unbridled narcissism. While I can’t give it 5 stars, it is a very solid 4-star book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    This serious, heart-wrenching novel is a debut by a Russian-born writer, and the deeper you go, the “uglier,” or more disturbing it gets. It revolves around a family in Louisiana—it goes back and forth in time, but at its center are Eden and Mae, two sisters ages 12 and 14, unsettled by divorced parents. They are sent to live with their writer and former activist father, Dennis, in NYC after their poet mother, Marianne, attempts suicide and is sent to a psychiatric hospital. The story of the fam This serious, heart-wrenching novel is a debut by a Russian-born writer, and the deeper you go, the “uglier,” or more disturbing it gets. It revolves around a family in Louisiana—it goes back and forth in time, but at its center are Eden and Mae, two sisters ages 12 and 14, unsettled by divorced parents. They are sent to live with their writer and former activist father, Dennis, in NYC after their poet mother, Marianne, attempts suicide and is sent to a psychiatric hospital. The story of the family, told in concise chapters narrated by different characters (mostly the sisters), is like a chorus of indistinguishable voices, except in the content and perceptions of what they say, and ultimately tells the harrowing details in a gradual reveal. The facts and truths are both explosive and tragic, and resembles a Greek tragedy meets American redemption, albeit 21st century style. Apekina’s portrait of mental illness is viscerally wrought, and the narrative invokes its the mutable, painful nature. Reading it was so wrenching that frequently I felt as hollowed out as this family. As is often missing in this intractable disease—where are the adults in the room? And, here—chillingly but with heart, the author presents a tale where the mirror is fractured and the child becomes the parent becomes the child, and roles are twisted and everybody suffers. Can anyone be whole when the waters are so toxic? Who can you trust, and how can you emerge, or do you drown in it? Apekina nakedly shows one family’s attempts to cope, compensate, and, periodically, overcompensates. “I understood how it could drive a person mad. I’d do stupid things to get his attention. I’d cut myself on purpose…but so what?...It’s like he was in an underwater cave, and I was splashing in the bathtub. If I wanted to be with him, I would also have to descend into that cave. And eventually that is what I did.”

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    Whoaaaa, boy. This book goes to some dark places. I picked it up after seeing Ottessa Moshfegh recommend it in a recent article. It clearly fell beneath the radar in 2018, which is a shame because it’s quite good. As far as families go, it’s hard to get more dysfunctional than this one. Teenage sisters Edie and Mae move in with their estranged father following their mother’s suicide attempt. This chain of events leads each girl down a very different path: Edie, loyal to her mother, can’t stand be Whoaaaa, boy. This book goes to some dark places. I picked it up after seeing Ottessa Moshfegh recommend it in a recent article. It clearly fell beneath the radar in 2018, which is a shame because it’s quite good. As far as families go, it’s hard to get more dysfunctional than this one. Teenage sisters Edie and Mae move in with their estranged father following their mother’s suicide attempt. This chain of events leads each girl down a very different path: Edie, loyal to her mother, can’t stand being around her father, who is a famous novelist and former Civil Rights activist. Mae, on the hand, is so much like her mother that she becomes obsessed with winning her father’s affection, meanwhile spiraling into a psychotic break. It’s not always easy for a writer to pull off multiple narrators, but Apekina makes it work, alternating not only between Edie and Mae, but also throwing in other first-person accounts of people in this family’s orbit. The result is a nuanced look at the dark history of the girls’ parents and the fatalistic chaos, madness and destruction that continues to descend upon the four of them. There were parts of this novel that could have used some editing: certain subplots that just didn’t seem entirely relevant or necessary. But in spite of these minor flaws, this is a bold, assured and captivating debut about mental illness, self-destruction and the possibility of emerging on the other side broken but still whole.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Yes, mom dragged me with her to every terrible place.I needed to get as far from her as I could. She was consuming me. That day she tried to hang herself from the rafter in the kitchen, I’d been lying on the bedroom floor. My mind was a radio tuned to her station and her misery paralyzed me.' In this gorgeous debut, sisters 16-year-old Edie and 14-year-old Mae’s lives are upended when their mother Marianne is admitted to St. Vincent’s (mental ho via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Yes, mom dragged me with her to every terrible place.I needed to get as far from her as I could. She was consuming me. That day she tried to hang herself from the rafter in the kitchen, I’d been lying on the bedroom floor. My mind was a radio tuned to her station and her misery paralyzed me.' In this gorgeous debut, sisters 16-year-old Edie and 14-year-old Mae’s lives are upended when their mother Marianne is admitted to St. Vincent’s (mental hospital) to ‘rest’ after an attempted suicide. The girls are forced to live with their estranged father Dennis (a literary success) in New York, a man who thinks he can just pick up in the middle of the story and become beloved ‘daddy’. Edie wants to go back to their old life in Louisiana, to her boyfriend, her school committees, her mother. It’s no surprise she was the one who found her mother hanging that day as she has been the one taking care of Marianne for years, through her stony silences and strange episodes. Edie doesn’t trust Dennis, feels it’s a betrayal to even be living with him when their mother needs them so badly. Mae felt swallowed up by Marianne, fearful she is too much like her damaged mother. Mae doesn’t have romantized thoughts about her mother’s illness, it has always scared her. Now that she is free of her, able to finally be herself, she doesn’t want her mother back. With Dennis’ eyes watching their every move, which irritates Edie feeling like they are just ‘new material’, Mae feels being the center of his world is intoxicating. Edie is loyal to Marianne, Mae has shifted alliances to Dennis’ side. So begins the unraveling of the sister’s bond. It’s meant to be temporary, but time stretches and Marianne isn’t getting better, Mae is under Dennis spell but Edie won’t let herself fall, despite her desire for the comfort it would bring. It’s too late for her, where was he all this time anyway? Busy with his women, not one thought for his ‘beautiful, beautiful girls’ who now have his rapt attention. Are they just a story brewing for him, serving as inspiration as their once beautiful, fragile mother was in her youth? There is a story there, Marianne as muse, was she the abuser, or the abused? The reader is witness to the blossoming of forbidden love between Dennis and Marianne, the civil rights movement, and dangerous obsession. With insight from Rose, Dennis’ sister, we are forced to wonder who is to blame for the fractured family. Fatherly love takes a dangerous turn as Mae never wants to go back to that life with her mother, never again wants to be suffocated by her mother’s madness. Yet the further she tries to step away from Marianne, into a new self, the more she becomes her. Edith is too angry, too perceptive to put her faith in Dennis. In fact, she is downright disgusted with his writing, with his seduction of her young mother so long ago. There is a line spoken by another character in the novel that expresses the emotional storms within, “It’s hard sometimes, ” she said, “to know where you end and others begin.” You can feel the ground shaking before it opens, know you are being led somewhere you hoped they would never go. Much like the photographs Mae takes, it’s an eerie exposure of the wildly different beliefs we have about our shared experiences. Both sisters are in denial about their mother and father. If Mae hitches her wagon to her father with fat dreams and madness, Edie holds just as much false optimism for her mother’s recovery. Like a needy kitten, love gets twisted for Mae and there is a point of no return. Edie runs to destruction as much as Mae does, they just take different paths to reach the end. There is no mistake that Marianne has been a destructive influence on Mae, who looks so much like her but Dennis… Dennis is a catalyst. To say more, would ruin the novel. I loved it, Apekina writes beautifully about a very ugly subject.The title alone, isn’t it the best, had me itching to read it. I can’t wait for her next novel, writing about family dysfunction isn’t easy, and taboo subjects if done poorly can repulse readers but it all added up here. I don’t think Marianne is alone in her wounded bird fragility, she got some help toward self-destruction in the form of Dennis and that’s all I have to say about that. Yes, read it! I still have the taste of ash in my mouth. Publication Date: September 18, 2018 Two Dollar Radio

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pablo Hernandez

    An engrossing and often disturbing novel on the subject of trauma, mental illness and loss. At its core, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is a darkly humorous and surprisingly tender tale of a dysfunctional family, narratively brisk and always compelling. The fact that this is Katya Apekina's debut novel is very promising. An engrossing and often disturbing novel on the subject of trauma, mental illness and loss. At its core, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is a darkly humorous and surprisingly tender tale of a dysfunctional family, narratively brisk and always compelling. The fact that this is Katya Apekina's debut novel is very promising.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Etter

    So much to admire here - a heartbreaking, gothic story at the core, with effective and brilliantly executed multiple narrators driving the story forward. A masterclass in fragmentation, organization, and pacing. A knockout. Apekina is one of the best writers we have.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

    I got not quite halfway through, and the story was getting too dark for me. What I mean is, the characters were not developed enough to hold my interest. A dark story with flimsy characters equals genre fiction. No thank you!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Mental illness isn’t contagious. Not technically, anyway. Yet its impact has the potential to be as lethal as a debilitating virus, a plague that spreads and spreads until everyone in its wake is rendered all but decimated. This is certainly the case with regards to Katya Apekina’s outstanding debut, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish. It tells the story of two sisters, Mae and Edie, whom are forced to live with a father – Dennis, a prominent literary figure and counterculture activist – t Mental illness isn’t contagious. Not technically, anyway. Yet its impact has the potential to be as lethal as a debilitating virus, a plague that spreads and spreads until everyone in its wake is rendered all but decimated. This is certainly the case with regards to Katya Apekina’s outstanding debut, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish. It tells the story of two sisters, Mae and Edie, whom are forced to live with a father – Dennis, a prominent literary figure and counterculture activist – they barely know upon their mother’s unwilling admission into a mental hospital. Told through a variety of first-person recounts, testimonials, letters and journal entries, Apekina spins a tale of grief, anger, love and loss. We learn not just of Mae and Edie’s discovery of their mother, Marianne, after another suicide attempt, but of the past that all but forged Marianne’s path: from her whirlwind romance with the older Dennis, to her astonishing mood swings, to her subsequent hospitalization(s). Yet The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish isn’t just about Marianne’s fall from grace; it’s a story about family, and the fragile, fractured ties that bind them together, no matter how frayed they may be. Upon leaving their native Louisiana for the bright lights of New York City, the sisters are at first circumspect of their sudden disposition, relying upon one another to survive. With time, however, they begin to grow apart, torn by loyalty: Mae to her father, Edie to her mother. Once inseparable the girls become broken, shells of their former selves, emulations of the very parents of which the ripple effect had originated. Their collective suffering is as unsettling as it is resounding. While the novel’s primary focus is on the immediate family of Mae, Edie and their parents, Apekina presents a dynamic cast of secondary and peripheral characters to which Marianne’s condition trickles even further. No party is left unaffected, no lightness experienced without darkness just around the corner. Per usual I’m hardly doing this work much justice with my borderline-slipshod summation; that said, this assertion rings more true than usual. The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is a stunning achievement, the work of a mature, self-assured writer who not only manages to take on the voice of several unforgettable characters, but manage to forge a powerful, singular voice of her very own. It’s as risky and confident a debut as I’ve ever read, a terrifically authentic and original take on an otherwise familiar narrative. Few authors achieve that in an entire career, let alone their first novel. If only such a talent were contagious. Alas. Looks like I'm stuck boring all seven of you with my long-winded reviews.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mary Lins

    “The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish”, by Katya Apekina, starts with a BANG of a first chapter pushing the reader forward to learn more about sisters Edith (Edie) and Mae and their unusual childhood. Various first-person narrative voices will “bear witness” to the story of Edie and Mae’s parents, Marianne and Dennis, with Edie’s (Edith) point of view set in 1997 and the others from the future, almost like a deposition. The writing is highly compelling and riveting, and as the foreshadowing “The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish”, by Katya Apekina, starts with a BANG of a first chapter pushing the reader forward to learn more about sisters Edith (Edie) and Mae and their unusual childhood. Various first-person narrative voices will “bear witness” to the story of Edie and Mae’s parents, Marianne and Dennis, with Edie’s (Edith) point of view set in 1997 and the others from the future, almost like a deposition. The writing is highly compelling and riveting, and as the foreshadowing of something quite creepy advances, one can’t look away. What’s remarkable is how skillfully Apekina manages to make all these narrators distinct. I never wondered whose point of view I was following. The novel is a fascinating, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, look at growing up with a mentally ill parent. That Edie and Mae’s experiences, perceptions, and reactions are so vastly different is one hundred percent believable. (Have fun identifying references to various Greek myths and gods in the narrative. If you don’t get them – no worries, if you do: bonus! Don't make it a drinking game, though, unless you want to get very drunk!)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cate

    This was fucked up in the best ways.

  23. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Although it is hard to say I "enjoyed" this book (because of its content and subject matter) I will say that family can be glorious and beautiful and it can also be extremely damaging and dangerous. This is an exceptionally deep and poetic story about two young teen sisters, their mentally ill mother and estranged father. Traveling between past and present from multiple points of view, readers journey down memory lane, often addressing issues, feelings and trauma through beautiful narrative. My Although it is hard to say I "enjoyed" this book (because of its content and subject matter) I will say that family can be glorious and beautiful and it can also be extremely damaging and dangerous. This is an exceptionally deep and poetic story about two young teen sisters, their mentally ill mother and estranged father. Traveling between past and present from multiple points of view, readers journey down memory lane, often addressing issues, feelings and trauma through beautiful narrative. My one criticism was that it ran a bit too long. PS At times, you need a thick skin to get through this. (I initially picked this book solely based on the title).

  24. 4 out of 5

    flannery

    Promised myself not to read hype debut fiction because my dislike goes so deep. Told from multiple viewpoints but there’s only one narrative voice and that voice begs like me, like me, look what I can do. Renewing my promise because it’s unfair to me (the reader) to punish myself and unfair to the writer, to be both hyped and trashed. Back to nonfiction while I cool tf down.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    This is such a complex book. I loved it and hated it and couldn't put it down. Tackles themes like individual memory, family memory, mental health, artistic temperament, and so much more. This is such a complex book. I loved it and hated it and couldn't put it down. Tackles themes like individual memory, family memory, mental health, artistic temperament, and so much more.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paltia

    Three points about this book: I couldn’t put it down. Once I began my friend asked me to make dinner, a dish he loves, and as a result I asked that he read aloud as I prepared. We ended up taking turns to read the book. I get most of my books at my beloved library. I bought this one. I give boxes of my books to friends. I’m keeping this on my favorites shelf. An honored position as I have little space. Last, I bought it because of it’s unique title and it so makes sense. Two sisters are left to Three points about this book: I couldn’t put it down. Once I began my friend asked me to make dinner, a dish he loves, and as a result I asked that he read aloud as I prepared. We ended up taking turns to read the book. I get most of my books at my beloved library. I bought this one. I give boxes of my books to friends. I’m keeping this on my favorites shelf. An honored position as I have little space. Last, I bought it because of it’s unique title and it so makes sense. Two sisters are left to deal with the aftermath of their mother’s second suicide attempt. In this case they end up with their father up north far from home. The story is like throwing a stone into a lake and watching the ever growing circles expanding outwards. Each new character that is introduced is like one of those rings. They exist around the girls, some closer than others. The sisters are, each in their own ways, victims of abandonment, sketchy genetic inheritance, and other character’s attempts to help or hinder. This story contains so much. An idealized parent, scapegoats for days, a voice of reason, and an exploration of the need to attach blame rather than taking responsibility. My friend, who read with me, was “grossed out” and said it got more disgusting as time went on. Ms. Apekina writes with keen observation of human’s inner worlds. She expresses what is often kept inside, sometimes burrowed so deeply it may go forever silent. Throughout everything that happens we have a front row seat to the sister’s journeys. We are closer to their inner turmoil than some, like my friend, wants to be. It reads like a confession of the sister’s fears, hopes, disappointments and desperation to find family again. You will become aware of their violent needs and their individual battles with others and themselves, to reach their share of love and relief. I think it is a beautiful book that although it may cause you to shudder with distaste, it is ultimately hopeful.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cassie (book__gal)

    An unsettling, slow burn. What an extraordinary debut from Katya Apekina and published by an indie press, Two Dollar Radio. After 16-year-old Edie rescues her mother, mid-suicide attempt, she and her younger sister Mae are shipped off to New York to live with their father, Dennis, a famous writer who abandoned them many years ago. As the two girls must reckon with their new life, Edie remains suspicious of her father and loyal to her mother, locked up in a psychiatric hospital. Mae, however, awar An unsettling, slow burn. What an extraordinary debut from Katya Apekina and published by an indie press, Two Dollar Radio. After 16-year-old Edie rescues her mother, mid-suicide attempt, she and her younger sister Mae are shipped off to New York to live with their father, Dennis, a famous writer who abandoned them many years ago. As the two girls must reckon with their new life, Edie remains suspicious of her father and loyal to her mother, locked up in a psychiatric hospital. Mae, however, aware of all the ways she emulates her mother, finds herself pulled into her father's narcissistic orbit, eager to please him and act as his muse, as her mother once did, for his writing. What follows is the sisters' disturbing descents into obsession over fulfilling the needs of their respective parents. It is a window into how the lines between where a parent ends and a child begins can blur and how we sacrifice people to serve ourselves. The narration of the novel is told from a variety of characters and sometimes not in just first-person narration, but in letters, journals, and retrospective reflection. Sort of like you're sifting through primary documents, at times. What I loved most about the narration though, is that it doesn’t give Dennis a voice – for once, in a book, the emotional vampire, the egoist draining all the women in his life, is silenced and the victims of his actions have their chance to tell the story how they saw it unfold. While reading I found myself thinking about at what cost is art created? Perhaps cruelty is a side effect of great art in ways we, as observers of the art, don't always see. Sometimes the answer to that question, if you look deep enough, is quite ugly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nadine

    A 5 star read for me up until the last few pages; it wasn't a precipitous fall, but just a relatively minor disappointment, your mileage may vary. The structure of the book was pure catnip for me - a large and rotating cast of narrators reflecting on the story from the past, the present (1997), and the future. Some of these narrators are minor characters in the story but pivotal to the plot, some are major, but the way the story unfolds through their collective eyes was the ideal way to tell thi A 5 star read for me up until the last few pages; it wasn't a precipitous fall, but just a relatively minor disappointment, your mileage may vary. The structure of the book was pure catnip for me - a large and rotating cast of narrators reflecting on the story from the past, the present (1997), and the future. Some of these narrators are minor characters in the story but pivotal to the plot, some are major, but the way the story unfolds through their collective eyes was the ideal way to tell this particular story. And to make it even nearer to perfect, some major characters never narrate, so we only know them through the eyes of others. The narrators' pieces are all short, between one and 5-ish pages, so the book moves along at a fast clip. The voice of each character felt unique, yet they blended into a seamless whole. Writing teenagers must be incredibly difficult, yet I thought Apekina did a great job with Edie, occasionally putting tidbits of wonderful metaphor into her mouth without making her sound older. For example, Edie is eating a big breakfast in a diner and thinks "....the pancakes look like you could take a nap in them." There were so many lovely, tiny, unobtrusive metaphors like this strewn through the book. My disappointment at the end was (view spoiler)[that Edie and Mae never talked about their feelings about Edie's pregnancy and motherhood. Given that their lives were shaped by failed parents, this feels like a glaring omission. Even just a sentence saying that the sisters wouldn't go there would have been enough. (hide spoiler)]

  29. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    this was my audio book for this week. I loved the title but the reality of the book is that it is not good. I read a lot and boy this story is completely out of touch. It is marketed as a coming of age novel. Mentally ill characters who have no redeeming value. the Father leaves when the girls are little with a woman who is mentally ill and suicidal. When the girls are teens he finally takes them while mother is in an asylum. The 16 year old leaves NYC to go back to Louisiana to "SAVE" her mothe this was my audio book for this week. I loved the title but the reality of the book is that it is not good. I read a lot and boy this story is completely out of touch. It is marketed as a coming of age novel. Mentally ill characters who have no redeeming value. the Father leaves when the girls are little with a woman who is mentally ill and suicidal. When the girls are teens he finally takes them while mother is in an asylum. The 16 year old leaves NYC to go back to Louisiana to "SAVE" her mother, she is a selfish, crappy girl who convinced a man to "Help" her. the 14 year old daughter retreats into a fantasy world where she is mother and attempts to seduce her own father I can not believe I finished this

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lana

    Beautiful, poignant, and rich in both narrative and writing style. Very highly recommended.

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