Every month, the Yale Daily News Magazine prints one short story, and this March, we published “Challenger Deep” by Marina Keegan ’12. Here, Amelia Urry speaks with Marina for an inside look at the story and how it came into being.
Q: In “Challenger Deep” you imagine the plight of the crew of a deep-sea submarine that has been stranded on the bottom of the ocean. The characters wrestle with the acceptance of their fate as the weeks go by and the possibility of rescue becomes more and more remote. Assuming that this doesn’t reflect your own life experience, what made you start thinking about this kind of situation in the first place?
A: I’m a huge science fiction nerd so I read a ton of books and watch a ton of shows about outer space. The experiences and emotions of characters trapped in fantastical and life-threatening scenarios on enclosed spaceships fascinate me. Yet the problem with science fiction for a lot of people is that it is fundamentally unrealistic. I started thinking about submarines because the atmosphere is actually quite similar to outer space but much more internal and realistic. Research submarines actually do travel into the depths of the ocean so there’s this realism to the whole thing that I think adds a certain terror. Basically, I started reading a whole lot about submarines on the Internet and imagining all sorts of insane things that could happen on one. I was attracted to the idea of enclosure and then decided to take it to the extreme by blinding — and eventually deafening — the characters.
Q: The story actually begins with the appearance of a swarm of bioluminescent jellyfish drifting past the submarine, and the excitement that they incite among the crew. As time passes, we realize that this occurrence is the one moment of light in a story that otherwise takes place — literally — completely in the dark. How did you think about the importance of light and dark to your characters?
A: In the most basic sense, light symbolizes hope for the characters. The end of the story returns to the moment at the beginning when the narrator is sitting in the periscope and waiting to see if the jellyfish come back. I feel like their possibility hovers over the intermittent weeks, but it is not until this final moment that anyone truly acknowledges their total loss.
Q: The extreme isolation of these five people causes a breakdown in what might otherwise be the social dynamic of such a group, creating moments of friction as well as sincere camaraderie. Do you have any experience with this kind of social tension?
A: Well, I guess you could say I experience that everyday because I live in a house with 6 of my best friends (haha). Circumstances of enclosure are always fascinating because the exit option just doesn’t exist; people are forced to face each other constantly.
Q: When your characters have nothing left, they still have the (dubious) solace of imagining a world that goes on without them. Do you believe in the refuge of the imagination?
A: Absolutely. But I think it can go both ways. Imagining something far away and unattainable can be powerfully painful. Ellen’s husband, Dan, says in his message that he can’t look at the ocean anymore. Just like the narrator says it gets harder when they all think about trees.