Hilarious and erotic it is not

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

BOTTOM LINE: Nope.

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 1 May 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety — not in the Greek chorus of women in her love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection.

Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn. A masterful blend of vivid realism and giddy fantasy, pairing hilarious frankness with pulse-racing eroticism, The Pisces is a story about falling in obsessive love with a merman: a figure of Sirenic fantasy whose very existence pushes Lucy to question everything she thought she knew about love, lust, and meaning in the one life we have.”

My Thoughts: (Warning, peeps. There may be spoilers.)

I’m not going to lie. The Pisces is one weird-ass book. I did not know what to expect when I first opened the novel, but I certainly was not expecting what I read. Ms. Broder actually found a way to make sex unappealing in so many ways, plus she created a character with whom it is difficult to find any sympathy. One might argue that the novel is satiric in nature, that it skewers the idea of relationships and the profession of therapy; yet, those are nuances that are challenging to observe because everything about the story is so in-your-face. Perhaps my feelings for the story would differ had I been able to look beyond the surface, but this is one novel where empathy completely fails me.

There is so much I find wrong with this book. I struggle with reviewers who describe the story as hilarious because the novel is, frankly, depressing. Lucy is a mess, and reading about her insecurities, her ennui, and her dangerous behavior when it comes to men is not something I find particularly funny. She is abrupt and coarse in pretty much everything she does or says, a blatant coping mechanism that becomes tedious after a while. Her issues with her thesis piss me off because she openly acknowledges that she is taking advantage of the system. I cannot feel sorry for someone whose blatant disregard for a system set in place to enhance learning is a key point in trying to win our favor. That she has issues with relationships is very clear, but I did not need multiple explicit examples to prove the point. One time going home with the wrong man and putting herself into a situation that could have severe consequences is all it takes for me to understand that Lucy needs professional help.

Then there is the fact that Lucy does begrudgingly attend group therapy sessions, but she mocks the idea and her fellow attendees almost every time she attends a meeting. It is understandable why Ms. Broder would make the members of Lucy’s therapy group caricatures, as we only see them through Lucy’s eyes and that is how she views them. It does not make them more enjoyable in a scene though. Yes, we have problems with our mental health support and care. Yes, we take the idea of therapy too far at times. Yes, there are people who are in need of such therapy and do benefit from it. No, I do not need to have this lesson repeatedly thrown at me with all the subtlety of a wooden log.

Then there is the idea that this novel is sexy. That is a resounding no. There is nothing sexy or erotic in Ms. Broder’s descriptions. In fact, her overt crassness in such scenes is the opposite of erotic. It is the cold shower of erotic. As for the merman scenes, I have no words. Actually, I do. Ms. Broder ruined the idea of mermen for me with her depiction of sex with them. Everything about those scenes is wrong, creating visuals that I would rather forget but know I will not be able to do so.

The thing is that it is not Lucy’s bluntness that bothers me so much, although it certainly did its job in making me uncomfortable. It is not even the explicitness of the novel, although anyone who takes umbrage at the c word should stay far away from this one. Taken separately, those are a writer’s prerogative that do not bother me. It is the combination of everything which is repellent to me. It is Lucy’s unapologetic nature. It is the complete lack of sexiness in all of the sex scenes, even when they are supposed to be nurturing and loving. It is the lack of subtlety of the entire novel; I prefer my stories less obvious and aggressive in their lessons. Subtlety in writing is an art, and there is none to be found in The Pisces. While it is obvious Ms. Broder can tell a story which evokes feelings and makes a point, her storytelling methods are not something I enjoy. In fact, I am quite surprised others find this particular novel so impressive. To me, The Pisces has all the subtlety of being beaten over the head with a steel pole; you would not think so many people would enjoy that.

4 Responses to Hilarious and erotic it is not
  1. Amanda
    June 5, 2018 | 12:11 PM

    This made me giggle. I do love a weird ass book on occasion but I’ll take a pass. This also reminded me of that Nora Roberts series with the mermaid and those totally odd sex scenes. I just don’t get the mer- thing at all. I will still with Seanan McGuire’s terrifying mermaids I think.

    PS- just bought the new Nora, have you read it yet?

    • Michelle
      June 6, 2018 | 1:21 PM

      I thought the NR mermaid sex scenes were definitely odd but at least they were romantically portrayed. She left details to our imagination. Broder leaves NOTHING to the imagination, and I mean nothing. And she describes things as if she is deliberately choosing the most controversial words as possible. Combine that with odd anatomy of the merman and period sex (again think as vulgar and nasty as possible), and I was done. I’ll stick with Seanan McGuire’s horrible mermaids too.

      I have it; I have not yet read it. I’m thinking my eyes need a break from all of these e-galleys and might move it up the reading schedule a bit.

  2. Ti
    June 5, 2018 | 12:48 PM

    This sounds like a real loser of a book. I HATE that cover. It screams cheap to me and although that is one adjective you didn’t use, unless I missed it, I guess you confirmed my opinion of this one. Skip.

    • Michelle
      June 6, 2018 | 1:23 PM

      I never got the impression it was cheap. It is deliberately vulgar. I think that is what I was trying to convey even though the word vulgar escaped me at the time. She is trying to shock with her language choices and odd explicit sex scenes. The whole thing is way too over-the-top. It was the first time I have ever felt emotionally manipulated with that emotion being shock.

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