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The Pisces

Review

The Pisces

2018 is turning out to be quite the year for woman-fish romances. First, The Shape of Water won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And now comes Melissa Broder’s new novel, THE PISCES, about a woman who, in the throes of a personal and professional crisis, embarks on a passionate relationship with a merman.

Lucy is at the end of her rope. Her dissertation --- a hot take on the lacunae in Sappho’s poetry --- is going nowhere. Her long-term relationship with emotionally unavailable Jamie is also on hold, especially when he starts seeing another woman. Her life in Phoenix might be driving her (literally) crazy, but Lucy doesn’t see many other options --- until her wealthy and annoyingly self-assured older sister suggests that Lucy come to Venice, California, to dog-sit for Dominic, her diabetic foxhound, while she heads to Europe for the summer.

At first Lucy balks, but then realizes that this might be exactly what she (and her dissertation) needs. She soon settles into a routine in Venice: caring for Dominic, secretly judging the fellow attendees at her court-mandated sex and love addiction therapy sessions, and strolling down to the beach late at night to try to exchange a few words with Theo, the mysterious, hot young man who occasionally swims by to chat.

"Despite its seemingly preposterous premise, THE PISCES is actually both hysterically funny and introspective."

Even as Lucy engages in a variety of questionable Tinder encounters, hoping to expunge Jamie from her memories, and even as she starts to acknowledge a kinship between herself and some of the other women in her therapy group, Lucy’s mind keeps coming back to Theo. Where does he come from? Why is he seemingly interested in her? And why does he always keep his wetsuit-clad lower half under water?

Despite its seemingly preposterous premise, THE PISCES is actually both hysterically funny and introspective. Broder --- a seriously funny writer who has previously published both fiction and personal essays --- writes fearlessly (and frequently hilariously) raunchy sex scenes, even as she rips the bandages off Lucy and other characters’ emotional wounds. The most prevailing theme here is about gaps and voids and our desperation to fill them, both literal physical holes and more conceptual ones, such as the missing pieces of Sappho’s poetry or the void that’s left behind in the wake of heartbreak, grief or the gradual loss of love. Broder also writes compellingly about the similarities between the pursuit of romantic love and the behavior and compulsions of drug addicts: “The chase was everything, all the hope and possibility of life. Very little else would ever be enough. Love itself would probably never be enough. You had to have the moment of almost touching…all the time.”

Near the end of the novel, Lucy wonders if it’s really love she’s looking for. Ostensibly, THE PISCES is a tale about disillusionment and the pursuit of romantic love, but it’s also about learning to define oneself in ways apart from romantic love: as a sister, a writer, a friend. It is both raucously funny and deceptively insightful, as enticing and profound as the sea itself.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 4, 2018

The Pisces
by Melissa Broder

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth
  • ISBN-10: 1524761559
  • ISBN-13: 9781524761554