The Pisces, the widely anticipated debut novel from Melissa Broder (aka So Sad Today), is a funny, strange, and unique tale of love, obsession, and sex with a merman. The book (published today by Hogarth) blends realism with fantasy and follows Lucy, a heartbroken PhD student, as she falls in dangerous, ecstatic love with a merman.
In an exclusive excerpt below, read Lucy's first encounter with an eerily attractive swimmer whose identity will change her understanding of what love is supposed to look like:
I’d heard it said that when you’re feeling good is sometimes when you’re the most suicidal. Maybe it’s after you decide that you’re going to do it that you suddenly seem happier. I don’t think that’s why I walked across the beach to the ocean that night. I don’t think I was planning to jump in the ocean drunk or that I wanted to get killed by a stranger. I knew it was dangerous to be out there at midnight. I think I just felt invincible, like I could do anything and be totally fine. Maybe I was looking for a new high.
I climbed up on one of the big black rocks that lined the ocean in a cluster. I sat there for a little while looking out at the waves, more grey and white now that I was up close. I wondered if the rocks were somehow sentient, lonely out here in the cold moonlight.
"Hi," I said to the rocks.
The rocks said nothing. They had the ocean and they had each other. I wondered if they ever got annoyed by the waves' constant lapping, the daily irritation of their own gradual erosion. Did they secretly long for a tsunami to come eclipse them into the ocean, just to be done with it all already? Or did they enjoy that slow, rhythmic tickling?
From the corner of my eye I spotted something fleshy on the edge of one of the rocks. It was a pair of hands. Fair hands, pale under the moon with the nails bitten down to slivers. Run! shrieked a voice inside me. A surge of adrenaline rang through my body like an alarm. But I couldn't move.
Then I saw a beautiful face, the wave of brown hair in an eye, and I gasped out loud. Was this the face of death?
"So sorry," the face said. "I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just taking a break for a second from my swim."
"It’s okay," I sputtered, still frozen.
The swimmer leaned on the rock with his arms. They were thick and meaty—not cut like a bodybuilder, but you could see muscles underneath what looked like a layer of baby chub. They reminded me of eating a piece of fish with thick skin and a small layer of fat, strong and soft. I wanted to bite them. His chest was hairless, and the color of his nipples matched perfectly his lips, like pencil erasers. He looked like he was 21, at most. If this was death then death was hot.
"Doesn’t it scare you to be night swimming? Isn’t the water freezing?" I asked.
"I’ve got a wetsuit on my lower half," he said. "But no it doesn’t scare me. I like the way the splashes look in the moonlight and I like having the ocean to myself."
"Yeah, it’s nice out here," I said.
I suddenly felt exhausted. His teeth were shiny white, but not like an actor’s. They didn’t look fake. They were practically iridescent like the inside of a shell. There was something almost feminine about him, pretty, but his jaw was well defined. These surfer boys. I forgot they were real. It seemed to me that the surfing was a costume, like they were only pretending to be so enamored of it. How could anyone be that devoted to something so lacking a destination? Just wave after wave, over and over.
"What’s your name?" he asked.
I felt old.
"Nice to meet you Lucy," he said. "I’m Theo."
When he said his name, his hotness increased. He was real there in the water, real in a way that I wasn’t. He was wet and I was—what was I doing? I thought of all my books, waiting for me in piles back in my parching Phoenix apartment, collecting dust. I imagined the university library, growing and growing, the books piling up on the edge of this ocean.
"Do you always swim at night?"
"Yes," he said. "The waves are more intense but it makes you stronger."
"Aren't you afraid of drowning?"
"No," he said.
I looked at the moon. Then I looked back down at him, and got scared. Who was he? He could just grab my ankle, pull me off the rocks and hold me under. But why would he do that?
I don’t know that we are ever really okay in life, but there are times when we feel closer to it. Then a boy comes in, and meets us there, and we think we can handle it. We think we can handle it, because in that moment we feel that we can handle anything. I always thought I could handle things until I couldn’t. I talked like dying was no big deal, but in that moment I definitely didn’t want to die. It was crazy to be out here.
"I should go," I said. "It’s freezing and I have to walk my dog."
"Oh, you have a dog?" he said, sounding disappointed.
This too was strange. Surfer bros always seemed to love dogs. They themselves were like the beautiful carefree mutts of the sea.
"Well, if you decide to traipse out to the rocks again late at night, maybe I’ll see you," he said. "I’m always out here swimming."
"Yeah, maybe," I said. "Okay, well bye. Be safe."
"Bye, you too," he said.
Suddenly, I felt giddy and silly. No longer scared, not even at all. Everything was so strange. Life was okay, though. Life was maybe even kind of cute. You simply had to expect nothing from it. The trick was you had to remain unattached to any future wishes or vision. You had to never get attached to any other person or expect anything good to come to you, and that was how you fell in love with life and how maybe certain fun and good things could happen to you. You had to fall in love with quiet first.