Verdict: Brilliant. Uncomfortable. Vulgar. Funny. Heartbreaking.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Date read: April 4th, 2018
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, May 3rd 2018
Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.
Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.
This is not a book for everyone, but it was very much a book for me. I was hooked from the very first page and could not stop thinking about this book in the breaks between reading it (I went on a 4-day hike in-between and would constantly mull over this book while walking). The book starts when Lucy has apparently already hit rock bottom: her boyfriend has left her, her thesis supervisors give her a deadline to finally finish writing the thesis on Sappho she has been working on for years (and in which she does not believe anymore), and she spirals out of control leading to her assaulting her ex and as a result being forced into therapy. Her (much older) sister offers her a job house- and dog-sitting so that maybe she can find her footing again while also attending group therapy. But Lucy is not done spiralling just yet.
Melissa Broder hit a nerve with me here: her descriptions of academia and the slog of a PhD felt on point. Lucy’s thoughts are close to thoughts I have had in the depth of trying to write a thesis – if I started to doubt my dissertation’s main thesis, I am sure I would feel as lost as Lucy does when she realizes she does not believe in her work any more. This coupled with her depression and dependency issues made for a very believable character.
The biggest strength of this very strong book is therefore Lucy. She is unpleasant, deeply so, mean and self-centered while staying believable as a person and ultimately being somebody I could not help but root for, even when she makes one ridiculous decision after the other. She manages to always find the most destructive course of action for any given situation. Her addiction to love (while being emotionally unavailable) is painful to watch, exactly because it is so believable. Her reaction to men is even more unbearable to watch and Melissa Broder captures the awkwardness and heartbreak of bad one-night-stands so very vividly that it made me cringe (and I mean that as a compliment).
I adored this. While I thought the first half was near perfect (funny and sad and poignant and so very very relatable and beyond everything just brilliant), I did think the second half suffered from Broder’s infatuation with her own metaphor. It is a great metaphor, for sure, but not so much that it could sustain the brilliance of the beginning. Still, god, what a book.
First sentence: “I was no longer lonely but I was.”
I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.