The Pisces

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Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of Melissa Broder’s novel, The Pisces, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Thirty-eight year old Lucy, has spent over a decade living in Arizona and working on her thesis involving the poetry of Sappho. Lucy is struggling with her thesis and when her boyfriend dumps her for a younger a woman, Lucy hits rock bottom.

Lucy needs a break from her desert life. Her sister, Annika, is spending the summer traveling and needs someone to dogsit, so Lucy moves into Annika’s California beach house for three months. While in California, she tries to get her life back on track by attending group therapy for sex addiciton. Nothing seems to be making her life better, until one evening while sitting on the rocks at the beach, she meets Theo, a handsome and mysterious man, who likes to swim by moonlight.

LIKE/DISLIKE– I usually separate what I liked and dislike about a book, but in the case of The Pisces, I feel the two are so intwined that I need to speak of them together.

I likely would not have read The Pisces, if I had realized that it was erotica. The description of the novel said that it was erotic, but did not list it as “Erotica,” which is a big distinction. I’m not a prude, but I also don’t read erotica. It’s not a genre that I’m familiar with, so perhaps someone who is familiar with the genre would have a very different reaction to The Pisces.

I found much of the erotica elements to be icky. There are plenty of vivid descriptions about fecal matter and period blood that are just gross. Broder writes incredible sensory descriptions, but they were often of things that I did not care to imagine. I thought erotica would be sexy and a turn-on, but there was nothing sexy about The Pisces. I felt that a lot of it was for shock value.

The Piscesis narrated by Lucy and she is a self-centered, bitchy character. She makes snide judgements about nearly ever other character in the story. She’s terrible to her sister, who loves her. The worst part is she neglects the elderly dog that is in her care. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a story with blatant animal abuse. As an animal lover, this was hard to stomach. Although, I think all of this is Broder’s way of showing us that Lucy is a deeply disturbed person and as a reader, we really not supposed to like or connect with her. There is a subtle shift in her character in the last few chapters, but most of the novel she is not someone who is learning from her mistakes or even wishing to make changes.

I liked the colorful characters that Lucy meets in her group therapy, as they add another dynamic to the story. But the whole time the therapist and things there are being told to do in sex therapy, disturbed me. The advice was terrible, further damaging already damaged women. I kept looking for the plot or character that would redeem the story and shed some positive light, but this was hard to find. Annika seems to be the only normal, good-hearted character and her part is minor. The Piscesis a story about deeply damaged people.

This is also a fantasy novel with mythological creatures that requires a heavy suspension of disbelief. Logistically, there were elements that didn’t add up. The scenes with Theo hanging out with Lucy in Annika’s house were bizarre. I was paranoid about the white couch.  I wondered why Lucy didn’t question him more, she was too accepting.

I liked the ending. It’s creepy and unsettling. I didn’t anticipate the twist.

RECOMMEND– Probably not, although I think if you love to read the genre of erotica, maybe give The Piscesa try. This book wasn’t for me.

 

The Marriage Pact

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advance copy of Michelle Richmond’s novel, The Marriage Pact, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Jake is a psychologist in a small private practice and Alice is a former rock star turned lawyer. After a short courtship, they decide to take the plunge and get married. At the last minute, Alice jokingly invites a client, a famous musician whose case she worked on, to their wedding. Not only does he attend, but the singer and his wife give Alice and Jake an unusual wedding present. Their present is an invitation to an exclusive club called “The Pact.”

The Pact is a group of like-minded couples, powerful couples, who enforce a set of rules designed to strengthen their marriages. When they return from their honeymoon, Alice and Jake are met with a representative from The Pact who asks them to formally sign a contract to seal their membership. Alice and Jake sign, not fully realizing the impact that joining will have on their lives.

The Pact actively monitors their marriage, looking for any cracks. Alice and Jake are given a hefty instruction manual, which details the actions they must take, like booking quarterly vacations and always picking up the phone when their spouse rings. When they don’t take their responsibilities seriously, they face the consequences, quite severe consequences. Jake discovers an old college girlfriend is also in The Pact and she tries to warn him. According to her, those who do not obey mysteriously vanish. Who is the mysterious group leader named Orla? Why were Jake and Alice chosen? Can they get out of The Pact alive?

LIKEThe Marriage Pact has a Twilight Zone/Black Mirror type quality to it. The tone is ominous, unsettling, and creepy through-out. I never quite knew where the story was heading, but I was happy to keep turning the pages. The intrigue and pacing never dropped.

I didn’t account for how dark Richmond’s story would go. The Marriage Pact is utterly disturbing. There are many chapters with scenes of detailed and imaginative torture. I’m left with imagery that will likely never leave my mind. I’m talking stuff like in the Saw film franchise. It’s horrific.

The story is told in first person with Jake narrating. This is an interesting choice, because early on, all of the terrible things happen to Alice, leaving Jake ( along with the reader) imagining and worrying about what is happening. My stomach was in knots. The Marriage Pact is a visceral reading experience. Jake and Alice are both affable characters and it’s easy to root for both their marriage and their individual characters to succeed. They are every-day people caught up in a completely mad situation. Richmond is brilliant with her character development.

I was worried that the ending would fall short and I felt like this until the final twist and the final chapter. Richmond has written the perfect ending. I can’t imagine anything else working.

DISLIKE– I was left with a few questions. How did The Pact manage to grow and become so powerful? At what point did Orla lose her grasp? Although the concept was intriguing, I felt I had to seriously suspend my disbelief. I just can’t imagine so many people going along with this group. I wanted more backstory on the group and its founder.

RECOMMEND– Yes, if you like creepy suspense stories and if you can handle highly disturbing content. The Marriage Pact is a thrill ride and Richmond is a fabulous storyteller.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

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Thank You to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced copy of Hannah Tinti’s novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Samuel Hawley is an outlaw, who has spent many years moving across the United States with his daughter, Loo. Now that Loo is a teenager, Samuel feels that he can make an honest living as a fisherman, and he settles in the same New England town as Loo’s maternal grandmother, Mabel. Loo’s mother, Lily, died in a lake accident when Loo was an infant, and Mabel believes that Samuel had hand in her daughter’s death. Was Samuel responsible? Can a man who has committed so many crimes, really be safe from his past coming back to haunt him?

LIKE– Tinti is the co-founder of One Story, one of my favorite monthly magazines ( check it out, it’s awesome), and I had the pleasure of taking an online writing class with her last month. It was fabulous!

Tinti has an interesting way of framing The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. She has given Samuel a body riddled with scars from bullets wounds, and she alternates chapters between the present and the past, using the past chapters to explain the ways in which Samuel has been shot. In the past, we learn about Samuel’s life of crime, his associates, and how he met Lily. As the story unfolds, we learn the truth about Lily’s death, and how it impacts the trajectory of the story. In the present, we see Loo growing into a teenager and trying to figure out details about her mother, through both her grandmother and living in her mother’s hometown. This structure created a solid framework for pacing the mysteries of the novel and keeping the suspense.

In addition to a strong structure, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has memorable characters. I was most intrigued by Lily and her relationship with Samuel. The chapter in which they meet, was the most intense, gripping chapter of the novel. It was cinematic. Speaking of cinematic, Tinti writes in a grand way, with beautiful imagery and sweeping landscapes. For example, there is a dramatic scene on a glacier in Alaska. Having recently visited a glacier in Alaska, I can tell you, that Tinti captured that amazing environment, including the details of the sounds a glacier makes, which is what was most memorable for me.

DISLIKE– There were a few places where I felt my suspension of disbelief was tested; for example, there are two separate scenes with a whale that didn’t work for me. It seemed too outrageous for the tone of the story.

Although I love idea of this outlaw who can survive whatever comes his way, it became a little much to have so many bullet wounds that were patched up. In one chapter he shoots his own foot by accident, which leads to a memorable experience taking a young Loo trick-or-treating, but otherwise, doesn’t seem to advance the story.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Tinti is an imaginative writer that takes readers to unexpected places.  I was able to empathize and connect with all of her main characters. If you can let a few things slide, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is worthy read. It’s suspenseful and engaging.