THE PISCES by Melissa Broder
Hogarth Press, May 1, 2018
I want to make this clear for those of you who get recommendations off me: The Pisces is not my usual kind of book. Anything shelved as both fantasy and romance would ordinarily get an automatic pass from me. But this wonderful review from Hannah piqued my curiosity, so against my better judgment I decided to request it and leave it up to the Netgalley gods to see whether or not I’d read it. I was approved approximately 2 minutes later, so that was that.
Thankfully, The Pisces was pretty incredible, and it just reaffirmed my tendency to occasionally read outside my comfort zone. It’s a sort of literary soft erotica story about a woman who falls in love with a merman, but I feel like that description sells it short. Broder’s writing is smart and sharp, and her story goes a lot deeper than your average mermaid erotica (or maybe the mermaid erotica genre has hidden depths and I’m just over here showing off my ignorance for underestimating it).
Anyway, a lot of that is down to our protagonist, Lucy. Lucy is 38 years old, has been working on her PhD thesis on Sappho for years and has since become disillusioned with it, and her love life is a disaster. She’s also kind of awful. She’s not a particularly nice person, and it’s hard to root for her – but I still want to, through everything. This is Lucy’s journey to accept herself and reconcile her obsession with love with her fear of intimacy, and what could be more human than that? Also, because of Lucy’s studies on Sappho, her narration is fused with allusions to Greek mythology and the classics, so I guess this book wasn’t 100% outside of my wheelhouse.
And then there’s the fantastical element. This was what I was worried about going in, but I ended up loving it. I feel like it’s treated by the narrative with a certain amount of self-awareness toward its inherent absurdity, which makes it all the more endearing.
This is not going to be for everyone. Don’t read this if you can’t stomach graphic sex scenes, or if you don’t enjoy reading about unlikable characters, or if you’re looking for something with the same sort of whimsical fairytale feel as The Shape of Water. The Pisces is both grittier and funnier, sexier and somehow less romantic. It’s both a fun read and an unexpectedly hard-hitting one, and with its absolutely stunning conclusion, I’ll probably be thinking about it for days to come.
Thank you to Netgalley, Hogarth Press, and Melissa Broder for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.