The Seep by Chana Porter
Published by Soho Press, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Seep has a striking concept and plays with lots of interesting ideas. Set in the future, Earth has been ‘gently’ invaded by a strange alien presence known as The Seep. Under The Seep’s intoxicating power, all humans have become connected, hierarchy has fallen, and existence has become fluid, allowing people to change their bodies at will. Trina, a 50-year-old trans woman, tries largely to reject The Seep’s influence, embittered by her wife’s decision to be reborn as an infant so she can live her life again, thus ending their relationship.
I won’t say much else about the plot, because it’s fair to say there isn’t a lot of it. Indeed, what little plot there is always feels secondary, serving as a loose framework around which the author can explore the book’s themes.
As a trans woman, Trina has had to fight to create the body she desires, and so it seems entirely understandable that she would resent the flippancy with which people can now morph into anyone or anything they want without question or resistance. And though The Seep would be capable of erasing all memory of her wife to spare her the pain of having lost her, Trina refuses, choosing instead to weather her grief as proof of what they once had. As such, The Seep is fundamentally concerned with asking us to consider what makes us human; if we are not comprised of our past and our memories, then what are we? Do we not need to suffer pain in order to know the joy of love and happiness? Is a future without death truly a utopia?
These are all big questions, but Porter explores them from a unique perspective, and though the world building is kept somewhat scant, what we are given is fascinating. That said, there are several instances in which things feel quite heavy-handed; the characters becoming mouthpieces that spell out the author’s every intention a tad too clearly. In a novel that already prioritises theme over plot and character, this clumsiness stands out all the more.
Though it didn’t engage me on an emotional level, I found it intellectually stimulating nonetheless. If you’re drawn to books that explore the psychology of the human experience, and our relationship with our bodies, then The Seep is certainly worth checking out.