Buzzed Books #77 by Drew Barth
Melissa Broder’s The Pisces
Let’s talk about mermen. They’re old lore. More or less. We’re all familiar with the general structure of a person with human bits on top and fish bits further down. But that’s just the myth, and myths aren’t the whole story. The backstory for The Pisces is this: Lucy is recently dumped, recently writer’s blocked on Sappho, recently suicidal, and stuck in Arizona. As such, her half sister puts her up in her home on Venice Beach to look after the place and her dog, Dominic. And then there’s the merman, Theo.
Love is the driving force at the center of The Pisces. The unconditional love of a dog. The love of a newly found partner. The love between people in similar circumstances. The love of those absent from our lives. But love isn’t sanguine here. This is the love hangover. This is what happens when love has pushed us to a point where we can see a merman and believe that he’s a good option. Because love in this context is something vicious. Lucy attends a support group for women afflicted by this kind of love through most of the book. They hold this fascinating mirror to Lucy to show what she could potentially be if she doesn’t find a balance. The women of the support group play like the Fates, showing the different paths that Lucy could head in should she choose.
At times, The Pisces feels like an extended Greek myth where we do get the whole story and not just a dozen lines from a broken carving. Lucy as a character almost follows the line of a Greek tragedy, from her dizzying heights to an almost meteoric downfall. Her story is so wrapped up in the ancient works, that she can’t see the story repeating around her even after the merman shows up. But we’re always so far in Lucy’s head that we can’t see these patterns either. We’re given her language and the flow of images that create a meaning from the small choices she makes. Every decision Lucy makes builds onto something else—from her love for Dominic to waiting on an ocean rock every night for her merman to arrive.
nd that’s ultimately what The Pisces does. The book gives us the fantasy, gives us the merman, gives us everything that follows a Greek tragedy, but twists all of that in such a way that we can’t help but laugh. Lucy’s exploits are heartbreaking and ignoble in equal measure, and yet the ridiculousness of having sex with a merman in her sister’s living room almost makes all of that okay. Broder gives us balance here, and that’s what we crave by the end: a balance for Lucy, a balance for her support group, her sister, Dominic, everyone. And it’s through that, we ultimately find peace.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.