Review: The Pisces // What Did I Just Read?

Review by Mary Kat

  • Rating: 😻😻/5 
  • Recommend for: Very adventurous readers with a dark and dirty sense of humor

Intro

Attempting to review The Pisces by Melissa Broder is a challenge, to say the least. The book is intense, bewildering, and inscrutable. It is full of vulgar and graphic material. Why did I read it? I was asking myself the same question by the end.

I picked up this book because I’m open to trying weird, interesting books with literary merit. I’ve read several Haruki Murakami, and although those can get real cray, I enjoy his unique perspective. And I’m not afraid of controversial picks because I savor the discussion.

SPOILERS AHEAD! CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I knew this book had a bit of debate around it, but I had no idea the deep-end that I was diving into. When I decided to read this, I was heading for a beach weekend, and thought a slightly weird, romantic coastal story (even with a scaly man fish) sounded like a fun beach read. (If you’ve read the book, you already know how misguided I was.)

Reading this novel reminded me of a long time ago when I saw a list of the weirdest movies around, which included Eraserhead directed by David Lynch. I thought what the heck, why not? And I watched the movie, which was indeed insane, absurd, and disturbing. By the end, I thought 1) the list was correct and 2) I reaped what I sowed by choosing to watch that. I felt the same way at the conclusion of The Pisces — that I had invited negativity and nastiness into my life by consuming this.

Not My Favorite

The premise of The Pisces is the romance between a woman and a merman. Yes, this has The Shape of Water vibes, but the book is about 10x more disturbing and depressing than the movie (wouldn’t have even guessed that was possible before picking this up). This book is labeled as literary erotica, but it’s not sexy or romantic. It’s cringe worthy and awkward.

The main character Lucy has issues, serious issues — self-destructive behavior beyond a level I’ve ever seen or read before. The book deals with self-harm, mental illness, addiction, bad bad sex, suicidal ideation and attempts, and all matter of weighty, heavy topics. It does all this in a flippant, nonchalant matter, which is how Lucy treats her health and life.

At the beginning, Lucy started off unlikeable but tolerable for me. She grew to be wholly distasteful and unbearable by the end. She is selfish, manipulative, unforgiving, and hurtful to herself and others. There seems to be little to redeem her — which I suppose may have been Broder’s intent, but makes for a painful, ugly read.

Up For Debate

There are definitely parts I liked. I felt this book had a lot of potential because of the important issues it shined a light on. I also liked how ambitious it is, and I can’t deny that it’s memorable. And the narrator is certainly funny, in a very dark and cynical way. I can see how I might have liked a different version of this.

But by the end, I was convinced that the author was trolling us. As if the author wanted to see just how graphic and disgusting she could be with her characters. There’s a lot of shock value for little gained. It has the effect of really making us readers feel the shame of Lucy. Shame is an important and difficult feeling to encapsulate, but because of the extremes of Lucy’s behavior, the character is more repellant, rather than relatable.

In some ways I’m glad I read this because it is hilarious to joke with my friends about the absurdity that I read. But in most ways, this book convinced me that reading “books of the moment” is asking for trouble. This book is scary and disturbing in a close-up, intimate way, and after this, I’m turning back to the safety of my classics.

All The Best

It’s been about a month since I read The Pisces and wrote this review (I like to let my reviews mentally simmer before publicly posting), and this book has stuck in my head. For all its faults, this novel really is memorable and original. I keep thinking back to The Pisces — sometimes with shock and disgust, sure, but sometimes with awe at its insights into shame and self-deprecation. Despite its many flaws, there are some painfully real and genuine insights that linger long after reading The Pisces.

On a superficial level, I also have to point out that the cover is simply amazing, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Absolutely gorgeous. It’s actually extremely appropriate for the novel too. Lucy talks constantly about the void, which is exactly what we get on the cover: a woman in rapture with negative space in the shape of a fish.

Verdict

Sometimes funny, but mostly shocking, disturbing, and graphic with an (almost) irredeemable main character. Still, there are some powerful insights into shame hidden beneath the over-the-top and gross-out plot events.

I would LOVE to hear your reactions, especially if you enjoyed this book! This book has a lot to discuss, and I want to hear any and all opinions on it!

Reading With A Side Of…

Rosé! Because it is summer (yes, still is — I’m holding strong until Sept 23), and rosé is required in the summer!

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