The Pisces by Melissa Broder
An original, imaginative, and hilarious debut novel about love, anxiety, and sea creatures, from the author of So Sad Today
Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.
Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.
This is…not an easy book to read, or review, for that matter. I think readers will be really divided over it. It’s one of those that you’re either going to love, or fucking hate.
Right up front you need to know that while this book is marketed as a romance, it doesn’t read like one. This is more like women’s fiction, where the majority of the story is dominated by the female lead and her anxiety and obsessions. The merman sex doesn’t come along until a good ways in, and even then, for me, their relationship didn’t feel like the sole focus of this story.
The Pisces opens with a bad breakup, and the weird WTFery that persists throughout its entirety is apparent in the very first few paragraphs, so I really recommend getting the free sample of this before you make a commitment to buy it. If you can handle the level of the main character’s existential angst in the sample pages, then you *should* be okay.
Other things you should prepare yourself for: this character is not the most likable. Female readers tend to judge female characters incredibly harsh. I myself am guilty of doing this. Especially with books written in the first person. Because when you’re reading something like, “I fucking hate all these people,” but you, the reader, don’t actually hate them and think the MC is just being an asshole, it creates a disconnect that can be hard to get past.
There were MANY instances while reading this that I thought the MC was being an asshole. Or that I was totally disconnected from her decisions because I would never make them myself. And yet I was able to get over it. Because Lucy is so brutally honest.
You know those terrible things you think? About life, love, other people, etc? The thoughts you pretend you don’t have? Those instant criticisms of strangers based on their physical attractiveness, their clothing choices, their weight? Lucy puts all of that inner monologue right in your face. And it can be soooo uncomfortable to bear witness to.
The people in her group therapy sessions are turned into archetypes through her skewed lens. I think readers will struggle with recognizing that is what is happening and that these characters are not actually one-dimensional. That this author is not actually shitting on therapy or medication or getting help when you need it. She’s shining a light on the fact that sometimes getting help sucks. Sometimes recognizing your own mental health needs is fucking hard. People who have never had to deal with depression, or anxiety, or neurosis of any kind are going to have a tough time connecting to Lucy in the first half of this.
It isn’t until around the 40% mark that things begin to turn around. That Lucy is able to recognize some of her more unhealthy behaviors and thoughts. That she begins to see past appearances and connect with the women around her in a way she’s been longing to her whole life.
That isn’t to say that she doesn’t have setbacks. That she didn’t do things later in the book that made me want to tear my hair out. But the fact that this author somehow had me hysterically laughing a page or two after each one made it easy to keep reading.
So, while this book is definitely not for everyone, I can’t recommend it enough for those who have read this review and still found themselves intrigued.
The Pisces is for readers who don’t have to love their female main characters to appreciate a book. For anyone who craves that catharsis of seeing in print that sometimes seeking help for your mental health isn’t the shiny bastion of love, acceptance, and healing that some people try to make it out to be. For fans of The Shape of Water and Mrs. Caliban that can’t get enough of cross-species steaminess with thought-provoking introspectiveness.