This book is crazy…but very smart. Following the breakup with her long term boyfriend, Lucy takes up her sister’s offer of living in her beach house in Venice Beach for the summer and house sitting her sister’s beloved dog. There’s only one requirement- she must attend a sex addiction group therapy. But she leaves that all behind when she meets the fantastical and beautiful merman named Theo.
The first thing to know going into this book is that it features lots and lots of sex. Honestly, this book probably has the most explicit sex scenes I’ve ever read. That’s all I’m going to say about that, but I can’t review this without acknowledging that that’s a substantial part of the book.
There are pretty much spoilers throughout the rest of the review.
I hated Lucy from the start and had trouble feeling any sympathy for her throughout. First of all, she’s definitely taking advantage of her graduate program by putting off her book on Sappho that the department is paying for. When she meets Theo she finally starts writing the book again. The department likes the new direction, but pulls her funding and suggests she pursue a trade publisher instead, which I found hilariously karmatic.
From the first chapter, Lucy continually judges and puts down other women based on their appearance. She nicknames two women in her group Butterface and Cickenhorse, and even wishes for her ex’s new girlfriend to have a miscarriage. This made me wonder if Broder is intentionally calling to attention Lucy’s woman-hating behavior or being unfeminist for the sake of being funny.
Dominic the diabetic coonhound is by far the best character in the book, and I loved the descriptions of Lucy bonding with him when she first get to Venice. And then Lucy has to go and kill him. She gives him high doses of tranquilizers so she can have uninterrupted sex with Theo. I automatically dock a point from my rating if a dog dies in a book. I understand that he represents unconditional love, but I’m sick of the dead dog/loss of innocent trope and resented that he had to die.
Okay, okay. Here are some things I did like. I was really impressed by the use of the unexplained specs in Sappho’s work as a parallel to the blankness and emptiness Lucy feels without love and sex in her life. This shift to meditation on classical thinking complicated and difficult to follow, but ultimately succeeded, and there were some beautiful paragraphs about myth, love and emptiness.
I also really liked the dark twist ending with Theo. This worked really well, because the reader is left to wonder if Theo really existed at all, or if he was a symbol for suicide/depression/abuse. And, ultimately she says no to the fantasy of Theo and saves herself.
But kills the dog.
I think the story has merit, but I found some of the details gratuitous and anti-feminist, and the characterization frustrating. I feel like I need to read middle grade or something to cleanse my palate now.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 books