The Pisces: A Novel
For nine years Lucy has been working as a part-time librarian at a small Arizona university and struggling to complete a Ph.D. program in classic literature. She’s fraught with complexities and doubts and persistently contemplates the meaning of life, which she calls “the greater nothingness—the void.”
After a dramatic break-up with her handsome geologist boyfriend, Lucy is depressed and facing a mini-existential crisis. Her sister, Annika, invites her spend the summer in Los Angeles, dog watching and house sitting at their posh Venice beach house. But Lucy finds little relief from her depression and anxiety—not in the love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in the unconditional love of her sister’s dog.
“Gods, please help me to be happy. Let me do the will of the universe and be willing to do the will of the universe, whatever that even is . . . I never asked to exist. But I am here now so could you maybe at least try and help me enjoy my life?”
Everything changes one evening, while strolling alone along the beach she encounters a mysterious swimmer. Lucy is immediately infatuated and mesmerized by Theo’s charming demeanor and rugged good looks. But when she learns the truth about the stranger’s identity, their relationship—and Lucy’s distorted understanding of what sex and love should look like—takes an unexpected turn.
The Pisces is the debut novel by award winning poet, essayist, and columnist Melissa Broder. In this bizarre novel, Broder fuses existential malaise and destructive love with a heavy dose of sexual fantasy. The characters are remarkably complex, but be warned the storyline is extremely graphic in its sexual portrayals and accounts. The explicit descriptions of these carnal encounters are somewhat disturbing and gratuitous in their titillation.
The fact that one of the characters is a merman comes across as less pointless than first imagined, and more like an acknowledgment of the absurdity of his existence. Broder’s mixture of straightforward bluntness is unsettling at times but curiously compelling. Her use of darkly humorous realism gives true voice to the depiction of those who are battling depression and suicide.
Putting the silliness of the merman storyline aside, Broder’s writing style cleverly explores the realities of both disappointing casual trysts and meaningful sexual encounters. Comically explicit, contemplative, and sometimes depressingly blunt, the author does an excellent job of exploring everyday human experience. This novel is filled with sincere reflections that ponder the existential question of whether we are destined to always desire what we can’t have?
Often unsettling, peculiar, sexually graphic, unapologetically explicit, but fascinatingly gripping, The Pisces does an adequate job of exploring the fundamental human need for both physical satisfaction and emotional desire, while connecting the frustrating ways that they are almost always mutually exclusive.