In a June interview with Hazlitt, Melissa Broder claimed she hasn’t seen the Guillermo del Toro film The Shape of Water. She admits she skipped through it on a plane, but gave up when she couldn’t find any sex scenes. The Shape of Water isn’t all that similar to Broder’s novel The Pisces, but it’s unlikely the two artworks will escape comparison: Both contain a romance between a woman and a fish-man.
“My agent was like, ‘No, it’s good,’” Broder says in the interview. “‘People will be prime[d] for fish sex.’” Unlike The Shape of Water, Broder’s novel has sexual situations and interactions that feel alarmingly realistic. There’s no romanticism. Instead there’s only delusion and inevitable embarrassment. Thumbing through it, I realized I was anxiously grinding my teeth, but also thinking, “Yeah, that’s Tinder all right.”
The Pisces is Broder’s first work of prose fiction, but she already has several poetry collections under her belt (Tin House’s Last Sext is when she first caught my eye), and a collection of personal essays on topics like sex, anxiety, and panic attacks called So Sad Today. She also has the popular, morosely humorous Twitter account @sosadtoday.
In The Pisces, Lucy is living one of my lifelong nightmares: the yawning maw of graduate life, marked by an unfinished thesis. Her romantic relationship with pragmatic geologist Jamie is also a horror show of uninspired stagnation. When Lucy self-destructively tries to get her boyfriend to propose, they hydroplane into “a separation” and spin out into a full break-up. And then she meets a merman.
The only place Broder slides into magic realism is by giving Theo a tail. The rest of The Pisces is about the all-too-human crawl from immaturity into responsibility. In The Pisces, romanticism dies in a ditch—but perhaps Lucy had to fuck a fish to become human.