This post originally appeared on 80 Books Blog.
3 out of 5 stars ★★★☆☆
Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.
*Received a copy of this book from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.*
If you think that I wouldn’t read a book about a woman who fucks a merman, who the hell do you think I am?? Hello, Shape of Water was an great movie, tyvm.
Books with weird premises, unlikable women, mermaids/mermen, my own star sign, there’s a lot here that draws me into this book. Plus, if we’re going to go wacky here, some of my favorite books have the strangest premises. (See also: Made for Love by Alissa Nutting).
The Pisces is not billed as a “fantasy,” though the genre could be categorized as “magical realism” if you were inclined. There’s no part of the narrative where the reader or Lucy is skeptical that there’s a merman in her life. The author doesn’t delve into the mythology of Theo the merman, as I mentioned this is not a fantasy so it’s not something readers should expect. We meet Lucy as she’s spiraling from a break-up. She moves from Arizona to California for a few weeks to dog-sit at her sister’s home in Venice Beach, California. Lucy generally is impulsive and selfish. She attends a group therapy meeting once a week and tries to make herself believe that she’s better than the women in the group. When Lucy meets Theo she becomes obsessed with him and spending time with him, even concocting a plan to get him into her sister’s home. And having lots and lots of sex. There’s period sex if you’re grossed out by that sort of thing. Literally nothing is off limits sexually. In their first sexual encounter he’s eating her out on the rocks at the beach (before she realizes that he hasn’t come out of the water yet…).
There relationship tension comes from (other than the fact that she is not in a good place mentally or emotionally) her plans to return to the land-locked Arizona and he literally can’t live out of the water. She has a choice to stay with him underwater, but what does that mean for her? Losing her life, but she considers it anyway. There are things about Theo’s past that Lucy finds out which helps inform her decision, but my main takeaway as this relationship drama is unfolding is that a *SPOILER* (see below Justin Timberlake at your own risk) happens. This incident majorly affected my rating and how I reacted to the book. Instead of a woman who is unlikable, she’s someone who is beyond that label. Just ugh. WHYYYYYY
So overall, my reaction to *SPOILER* clouded my judgement of what could have been a weird, contemporary Shape of Water.
The dog dies.
This reason alone made me not love this book. Ugh why the dog! I expected her to go into the ocean with Theo at the end rather than this! Because Lucy becomes so wrapped up in Theo she will do anything to make Theo feel safe, which in this case includes giving Dominic tranquilizers when Theo is at the house. The dog overdoses! And the sister doesn’t blame Lucy when she finds out the dog is dead. There are no consequences. I’m so mad at this!!