The post below originally ran at Heroes & Heartbreakers and is no longer available there, so we're reposting it here!
Here’s what you need to know about Way Down Deep:
- Cara McKenna and Charlotte Stein wrote a book together.
- It’s a modern-day epistolary novel told through texts.
- The hero is a single dad who moved to England to be with a traumatized toddler he didn’t know about.
- The heroine is an agoraphobe who is reluctant to share details about herself.
- It all starts with a text to a number that’s been reassigned…
Full disclosure: I love everything I’ve read by Charlotte Stein and Cara McKenna. I knew going into this that I was probably in for a great read and had really high expectations. Readers, you know that sometimes this leads to big disappointment. I’m here to tell you that this is not that time.
I’ve never read anything like Way Down Deep. The format alone leads to all sorts of interesting writing choices, like how the authors build sexual tension, how and when the characters might reveal certain details (like their names!) to each other, and how to write an entire book in what we think of as the shortest modern communication form.
The “texts” turn out to be longer than those that you and I probably send. The characters take turns sending series of perhaps 6-12 paragraphs, sharing increasingly personal details and developing a friendship (and more, this is a romance, after all). The two characters don’t share a single word in person during the course of this book. Their sexytimes are entirely through text. It’s so interesting! The heroine’s texts are italicized, and the hero’s are in a regular font. Here’s a taste:
I wonder what it says about us, that we took a medium designed for haste and abbreviation and smiley faces and back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth and use it the same way we might carrier pigeons or letters sealed with wax. That we’re scared? Or perhaps there’s some pleasure to be found in the composing? The crafting and curating of thoughts until they’re just so, worthy of offering?
Or perhaps it’s the waiting. Anticipating.
It’s teased in the book blurb, but you should know that McKenna and Stein aren’t kidding when they say both characters have been going through some stuff. Trigger warnings for suicidal ideation, depression, and childhood trauma. (No sexual abuse.) With those warnings in mind, let me give you another glimpse into the beautiful relationship that grows between the two characters:
Am I shouting down into your well? That’s what you do for me. And now, after this last week or two, I can even see a little blue way up there. A tiny little circle of blue.
You’re doing more than shouting. You’ve reached down and grabbed my hand and I know I can pull myself up. I just hope I can pull you up from yours too. Or at least, give you something that you can use to do it.
Having read much of Stein’ and McKenna’s work, I could hear both of them in the writing, could imagine them writing this entire novel as a series of messages between the two authors. Each choosing how much to reveal about their character and when, choosing how far each character would be willing to go. It doesn’t hurt that one is a Brit (like Stein) and one is an American (like McKenna).
Sure, the texts don’t feel like texts at times. The characters wait hours between messages, crafting sentences far too beautiful for a stranger at 3 a.m. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is that these texts are their only available form of communication and they’re pouring their souls into each one. Maybe the point is that they’re two romantic souls keeping true to themselves despite a medium that can feel cold and efficient most of the time.
You can find out soon, and I hope you do. I’m dying to hear what the rest of the world thinks of this story.