Melissa Broder, author ofSo Sad Today and all of my favorite sardonic, self-critical tweets, joins the literary fiction category with this shipwreck of a novel. It’s wave after wave of excruciating build-up, until the inevitable lackluster crash. Though Broder’s writing is remarkable, the novel itself is not anchored to anything substantial and tends to drift. I enjoyed the self-reflection, but could have skipped this sex tsunami.
Alright, I’m done, I promise. If I can’t make ocean jokes, why am I even here?
Lucy, a graduate student working in a library in Arizona, is writing a dissertation on Sappho’s poetry. Her five-year relationship to safe and relatively unemotional Jamie is starting to drag. On a whim, she decides to break up with him. To her complete and total horror, he agrees. This sends poor Lucy into a tailspin. Okay, maybe I wasn’t done with the ocean jokes.
Recently and despairingly single, Lucy decides to spend the summer at her estranged sister’s oceanfront home in Venice Beach, California. Here she meets a rag-tag band of females in an emotional support group, all battling their unhealthy relationship to relationships. Lucy belittles their lack of self-worth, then spends the novel only befriending women she deems worse off than herself.
Anyway, Lucy discovers a really handsome half naked swimmer out by the rocks as she’s wandering one night on the beach. He says one or two interesting things about Sappho, and then they’re in love. It happens pretty rapidly and without reasonable justification, which we don’t really need anyway because we soon find out this mysterious swimmer is actually a merman. Theo has the lower half of a fish and the upper half of a sexy human man (including the human man parts, hidden under a conveniently draped loin cloth).
So they of course become lovers. Lucy is desperate for validation and love, horrified by her desires and yet completely enslaved to them. She must choose between a life on land and a mysterious underwater alternative that Theo begins to pressure her to take.
THE UNDERCURRENT OF LOVE
The last twenty pages of Broder’s novel are what I wanted from the entire book. Eerie, dark and emotionally jarring, it took me to some desperate places. I won’t give it away, but Theo’s character is as boring as any stock character in a Lifetime movie until these fortuitous last chapters. God I wish there was more of this fiendish Siren-like darkness throughout the rest of the novel. It could have been an ocean thriller.
Also, warning: If you’re not interested in super graphic depictions of rectum cleaning and female menstrual excretions, just pass on this novel. About 150 of this 270 page novel are just that. Which, to Broder’s credit, was totally top-notch writing is you’re interested in literotica.
I enjoyed what Broder was attempting to do here. The reality is that our obsession with the concept of love is often an addiction that drives us to dangerous self-harm. There is very little precedent in our culture to seek solace in being alone, to find completeness within ourselves. The fairy tales and the Disney movies and the music videos tell us over and over again that we’re nothing unless someone loves us. We’re empty until we fill our holes (all of them) with love, adoration, worship.
But Broder holds a mirror up to our self-diagnosis and then leaves us hanging. There are no profound answers here, only a lot of finger pointing.
Thanks to Penguin for an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review.