365 Books in 365 Days: Episode 56 by Annie Walton Doyle

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The Pisces by Melissa Broder

I, like many others before me, first came to The Pisces by Melissa Broder because of the promise of sex scenes with a merman. And if you, too, are intrigued by that simple premise, then you won’t be disappointed in this engaging and exciting novel. But the truth is, The Pisces is about so much more than that. 

The famous creation story of The Pisces is that Broder composed the novel primarily by recording voice notes to herself. And we can’t say for sure whether or not this stands up factually, or how heavy the editing process was in order to bring the novel to its final form. But the inherent avoidance of self-aggrandizing within the prose does seem to suggest some level of truth to its composition myth. It’s this very natural, almost chatty style that helps to ease the reader in to some of the more … fantastical elements of the story (read: merman sex). 

By framing this story as one of romantic fantasy, the reader may be lulled into a false sense of security when approaching the surprisingly radical book. But, like all of Broder’s writing, things are not always as they seem. Broder is, first and foremost, a troll – and by tempting readers in with a smirking nod to the world of “women’s fiction,” she actually manages to make a point about the issues of this label overall. And what follows is a deliberately stark, grim, and unflinchingly realistic look at the fundamental concept of romance.

Through the visceral disgust of the scenes in which Lucy, our main character, prepares for a conjugal visit, Broder points out how much of love and sex are connected to the inherent grossness of being a human. In fact, once you see Lucy’s dating alternatives, the concept of romance with a merman instead seems totally rational, even verging on appealing. As Broder says in one of the book’s most memorable, cutting lines: “Did it take a mythological deformity to find a gorgeous man who was as needy as I was?”

One of the potential quagmires of writing about mythological figures in this way could be a book that feels flowery, magical, and highfalutin. The Pisces is anything but. As a fever dream feels totally believable whilst you’re in it, The Pisces feels like a work of unquestionable veracity – at least, until afterward, when you’re left thinking, “what on earth did I just read?” 

It’s this feeling of remarkable believability which makes the experience of reading The Pisces so special. After all, if the narrator can tell you in vivid detail about giving herself an enema in her sister’s bathtub, why would you suspect for a second she’d be lying about any aspect of Theo, her aquatic love interest? It’s this uncompromising honesty that keeps you on Lucy’s side, and offers credibility to her story as a whole. It poses the question: if this is the reality of dating and relationships, then what makes the idea of the existence of a merman any more implausible?

So yes, The Pisces is about more than just merman sex. But if it takes the lure of amphibian erotica to encourage you to read a beautiful, tragic, hilarious, hopeful novel about the human condition (complete with one of the greatest final lines of any book I’ve read, ever), then so be it. Merman sex it is. 

Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.

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