Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: "The Pisces" by Melissa Broder

"Did it take a mythological deformity to find a gorgeous man who was as needy as I was?"

So, if you watched the film The Shape of Water and thought to yourself, "I wish I could find a sea creature to, well, you know," then Melissa Broder's new book, The Pisces, is for you. I didn't know there was such a thing as merman erotica, but here it is. (Seriously.)

Lucy's life is falling to pieces. She's been working on her doctoral dissertation on Sappho for nine years, and she doesn't know what to do with it anymore, because she's not even sure what her point is. Even worse, she and her longtime boyfriend Jamie break up, and before she knows it she's wandering around town half-dressed and drugged, and she suddenly is harboring violent tendencies.

Her older sister comes to the rescue, convincing Lucy to take the summer at her fancy house on Venice Beach and take care of her beloved dog, Dominic. She promises to attend group therapy, swear off dating, work on her dissertation, and revel in the love the dog can provide. However, it's not long before she becomes depressed by how pathetic her fellow group members seem, and she feels the need to fill the empty space inside her by having sex with anonymous men she meets on Tinder.

"Was it ever real: the way we felt about another person? Or was it always a projection of something we needed or wanted regardless of them?"

One night, while sitting on the beach rocks alone, she meets Theo, a handsome and mysterious swimmer. He seems to be everything she is looking for—sexy, intuitive, sensitive, and immensely attracted to her. She comes back to the beach rocks to find him on subsequent nights, but she isn't sure what his deal is—is he a night surfer, a swimmer, or just some guy who never seems to get out of the water?

As her life continues imploding, she discovers the truth behind Theo's identity: he's a merman, but not one of the horrible creatures portrayed in mythology. Theo may be a merman, but he's all man, and their sex life satisfies her more than any of the recent encounters or her relationship with her boyfriend ever did. But as Lucy tries to make their relationship work by bringing him to her sister's house, she realizes that this kind of life may be more complicated than she realizes.

Faced with the prospect of losing Theo, she makes some crucial mistakes, and when he asks her to live with him underwater, she thinks it might be the solution to all of her problems. Is she totally crazy, or is this the key to everlasting love? What does "living" with him really entail?

In The Pisces, Broder creates a portrait of a woman who desperately wants to feel desired and feel loved, and she believes only a man can make her feel fulfilled. The book is part social commentary on the pressure women feel to behave as expected, and how easily they can be taken advantage of, and it's part fantasy (you know, the merman part). At times the book is painful to read because of the loneliness and depression that Lucy and some of her fellow group members suffer from.

As you might imagine given the subject matter, this book is pretty sexually explicit, and it's probably more of a book for women than it is for men. It tends to drag a little bit at times, as Lucy keeps cycling through her depression and indecisiveness. I also had a bit of a problem with the way she treated the dog, so those who are sensitive to the way pets and animals are treated in books may be troubled by her behavior.

Broder is a tremendously creative storyteller, and she imbues her characters with heart, sensitivity, and humor, as well as some serious libidos. This is an odd book, but it's definitely one of the most unique ones I've read in some time. It certainly may make you think twice when you're at the beach at night!

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