Author: Melissa Broder
Release: May 1st 2018
Received: BOTM Review Request
Warnings: Animal death, Suicide attempts
I received a copy of The Pisces in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Lucy is a thirty-eight year old woman (a fact she made very clear – she’s thirty-eight, not forty, thirty-eight) who’s struggling with her thesis paper (well, a book really), suffering from a world altering breakup, and adrift in the world. She doesn’t really know what she wants out of her life, she doesn’t want to be alone, but she doesn’t want Jamie (until he stops wanting her, then he’s the best thing she could ever want). She doesn’t like her thesis concept anymore, but obviously dropping something like that requires some direction for her life. In essence Lucy is in limbo. This novel is about her attempt to find a way out of the bubble she’s made out of her life.
Warnings first: There are a lot of heavy moments in this novel, so you’ve been warned. One of the main characters friends tries to commit suicide (she doesn’t succeed, thankfully), and Lucy herself even plans it (though she doesn’t actually consider it that – this will make more sense at the time). Also (massive spoiler warning here) Lucy kills her sister’s dog. She doesn’t mean to (though I’m loathe to give her that much credit); she was trying to tranquilize him so her boyfriend could come over (see what I mean about not wanting to give her credit?) and he overdoses on it. This event can see seen coming from miles away (she keeps repeating this behavior, upping the dose each time) but it is still really unsettling and upsetting.
For the sake of honestly, I’m going to tell you right now: I really only finished this book because I needed to see what happened to Dominic (her sister’s dog that she was taking care of). If you’ve read my warning, you’ll understand why I’m unhappy about how things ended up there.
We’ve all seen the classic trope of the forty year old man going through a rough midlife crisis, yes? Well Lucy is basically going through her own version of it; or at least that’s how I see it. This novel is so full of contemplation and ennui it’s sometimes overwhelming. Saying Lucy is lost or floating through life would be a pretty accurate statement.
I’m going to be honest with you; I do not like Lucy’s character. She’s completely self-obsessed, shallow, harsh, and inconsiderate. Therefore I had a lot of trouble caring about anything that happened to her, especially when she was the direct cause of it (which was frequently the case). She almost seemed determined to try and make her life harder for herself. I know this can be a symptom of something more going on for her, and thinking about it like that helped make her character more bearable.
It wasn’t just Lucy’s character I didn’t like. Though we could consider her character to be a contribution to a lot of what I didn’t like. There’s an awful lot of negativity towards other women in this novel. I know this is a filter; Lucy judging other women in an attempt to feel better about herself, but it’s all pretty harsh and hard to read.
The way group therapy was represented in this book is borderline dangerous and harmful. To imply that all groups are as worthless as this is a very dangerous idea, as some people truly need them for help. Every character shown in group is presented as pathetic in her own way, someone undesirable. I felt this was a very unhealthy (and unkind) representation. Again, I realize this was likely through Lucy’s filter, but there’s nowhere in the novel where this opinion is corrected. That’s the scary part.
That’s not to say that the novel was all bad, there were some interesting or funny parts. Ironically I found myself truly intrigued with Lucy’s PhD project; the argument that we shouldn’t try to add meaning to the blank spaces in Sapho’s works, but instead read them as intentional blanks (even though time is the cause for these blank spaces). I absolutely adore this interpretation, and sincerely think I would have enjoyed reading a book about it. But I digress.
While I believe the ending is supposed to be left up to the interpretation of the reader, I personally found it unsatisfactory (probably because I didn’t enjoy a large part of the novel). I feel like the Lucy in the end of the novel isn’t all that different from the one in the beginning, despite all her efforts to change. To me this was a great disappointment, as Lucy had a lot of room for improvement.
I would like to say that while ultimately I didn’t enjoy this novel, the writing itself was surprisingly wonderful. Broder has a way with writing sentences – forming ideas that are almost visceral in nature. I wish I had read another novel of hers first (so as to have had a different first introduction), but I think I liked the writing style enough where I’d be tempted to try another one of her books, given the chance. Any recommendations?