The Pisces by Melissa Broder: book review

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Overview: Lucy's life is falling apart. She's 9 years into a PhD with a thesis she can't bring herself to finish. Her longterm boyfriend won't commit, so they've finally broken up. She has no self esteem and no direction. So when her sister plans on leaving her Venice house for the summer, she invites Lucy to come to California to reset and dog sit. Instead of getting to know herself better, Lucy looks for validation from every man the internet can provide for her. This is a whirlwind story that definitely gets more than a little weird halfway through. Overall: 3.5

Characters: 3.5 Having read Broder's two later books first, it's clear how her Lucy was the blueprint for her subsequent main characters. She has the signature over-honesty and prickly edges that I love from Broder's later work. Her sharp tongue is a bit less refined and confident, though, than the later characters. All the pieces are there, they just haven't quite fully gelled. But similar to the other books, this is Lucy's world, and she's really the only one who matters. Everyone else is an accessory. There's various Tinder guys that are oddly interesting in their own ways when they glimmer through the plot. There are the women from the group therapy she sporadically attends and the relationships she forms with a few of them that reveal more about Lucy. There's also a dog central to the plot that's imbued with a lot of interesting symbolism.

I'm not even going to talk about the merman...

Plot: 3.5 I really enjoyed the first half of the book. Lucy has her self-destructive cycle in Phoenix, transplants herself to California, starts caring for her sister's beloved dog, and then goes on a series of nightmare dates/hook-ups in a feeble attempt at building self-esteem. That portion was interesting and stoked by Lucy's voice and constant triumphs and backslides. 

Then the merman shows up. I did not see this coming. Having just read Death Valley that seems like it's going to introduce magical elements into literary fiction but doesn't really explicitly do that, I didn't think that a whole fish man was going to be the toxic lover in this book. It's jarring because Lucy is so mentally fragile that you spend most of the time trying to figure out if this is a world where mythical creatures do actually exist or if she's seriously hallucinating. In a way, it makes sense. She's writing her PhD thesis on Sappho and thinks a lot about the relationship between people and the Greek gods and the mythic beings in those stories. Maybe this would have worked if the book hadn't just turned into a series of random, baseless sex scenes after he arrived without the comedy or plot-rooted nature of her prior hook-ups. His character flattens hers, and I feel like you can't just drop a merman in with zero context and then just push right along. The plot just never comes back together after he arrives and the book felt like a slog after that. 

Writing: 3.5 It's so interesting to see the threads of what would become Broder's signatures emerging here. This book isn't quite as immersive or well crafted as her other two – which is expected! This was the debut. You'd hope there'd be growth! I feel like, while having its own main theme, Death Valley is a close, much improved echo of this book. While Milk Fed feels entirely separate in its style, The Pisces and Death Valley play on a very isolated, blunt female main character who is trying to figure out a massive problem somewhat on their own. While this book lacks the same elegance of delivery and doesn't feel entirely self-possessed, it's an interesting novel. I just had very different expectations than... merman. Maybe I would've enjoyed it more if I'd seen that coming, but I'm not honestly entirely sure.

More From This Author:

Death Valley review

Milk Fed review

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

Top Nonfiction (And Audiobooks) of 2023

The Bee Sting review

Top 10 Fiction Reads of 2023

Wellness review


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