@sosadtody wrote a feminist romance novel about merman sex

Dane Scott

Melissa Broder has established a fervent cult of young readers through her frank writing and tweets about depression and womanhood.

Twenty pages into Melissa Broder’s gritty and glittery debut novel THE PISCES, the heartbroken heroine Lucy blacks out while driving on Ambien. She wakes up parked in the middle of the road, cars honking at her, doughnuts of all different kinds scattered across the driver’s seat. “I didn’t even like jelly,” Lucy thinks, before a cop arrives at the scene.

The doughnut-Ambien debacle drives Lucy from the university she worked at in Arizona to spending the summer in Venice Beach dog-sitting for her sister and doing everything she can to get over a cosmic breakup. She revisits the “capitalist magic” of crystals and tarot cards, obsesses over her ex’s horoscope, has awful/amazing Tinder sex, and joins a love addiction therapy group. Yet nothing helps her move on as much as meeting a swimmer, named Theo, one night by the ocean. Lucy soon finds out Theo is actually a merman.

In THE PISCES, there’s breakdowns over danishes at Le Pain Quotidien. There’s musings on the love poetry of Sappho (which Lucy is writing her thesis on). There’s spontaneous sex with a Uber driver. There’s heart-stopping observations about fantasy and love. Basically, this book is all you could possibly want out of a summer beach read.

Though this is Melissa Broder’s first novel, she’s been writing for years as an award-winning poet and essayist, and as the face behind the famous pink avatar of @sosadtoday. Her tweets have always felt like these fizzing neon-pink signs shining from the dark abyss of the internet — little viral reminders that none of us are really alone. Her companion essay collection So Sad Today solidified a genuine fandom around her work. When I went to see her at The Strand for her book tour earlier this month, the floor was full.

At The Strand, Melissa ruminated on everything from romantic obsession to the time in her 20s when she was “drunk all the time reading about Buddha.” The audience also learned that a merman personally wouldn’t be Melissa’s choice Greek mythology crush over someone like Circe (“We’d hook up and then probably end up friends”) or Apollo (“God of sun and poetry, also a twink”). At the end of the Q&A Melissa signed my copy of THE PISCES with ‘To Dane, and all your fantasies … xo.’ A few weeks later, I got the chance to call her from LA to talk about everything from fantasies to fangirls to fool’s gold.

I had been really curious to first talk to Melissa about her fans. I wondered: How does she feel about having countless people reading such intimate work by her and being so impacted by it?

“Someone will come up to me being like ‘Oh my God, I’m fangirling, I’m so sorry’ — usually at an event because I don’t get recognized on the street or anything. People don’t really recognize writers — and I’m like ... ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re sorry, this is the best thing ever.’ To have a fangirl is so cool. As an insecure human being, it’s so cool to have a fan.”

My friend Lucy Mace — a true Melissa fan — recently visited me in New York, right after she had binge-read THE PISCES and still reeling from how hard she’d connected with the novel’s character, Lucy: “I really liked the description of how Lucy found her ex so repulsive near the end of their relationship — right up until when he didn’t love her anymore — and then because she suddenly can’t have him, she only sees the good parts. She only sees him as beautiful.“

I asked Melissa about her relationship with readers like Lucy M., these bonafide fans of poetry and prose who also happen to be teenagers. Melissa, who clearly values her teenage fans as much as the rest, told me how at her hometown book tour stop in Philadelphia, two different girls came up to her in the signing line and started to full-on cry. “They told me about the different point in their life — the hard point in their life — where they’d found So Sad Today. And with each of them, I started crying too. I think I really needed a good cry.”

“You know, it’s just a lot publishing a book,” she continues. “Fear of not being enough, like, Oh no, not enough people will read it. I’ll let my publisher down. And then there’s the fear of being too much. Like, Oh no, I’m promoting too much.” Already emotional and fairly sleep-deprived from a 3:30 a.m. flight, Melissa was so struck to hear these girls’ stories and learn she’d been a gateway drug to one of them discovering “all these other women poets — Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton.”

“With each of them, it stopped being entirely about myself, and it was just about being a human being ... deeply relating in that moment to another human being. And I felt that for as much as I’ve maybe helped them, it was so healing for me in that moment. I just felt so moved. Like ohhhh, so this is why I’m doing all this.”

From the phenomenon that’s So Sad Today, Melissa’s tweets have entered so many different lives and hearts. She has some trepidation about social media, saying, “The war is on for myself. Social media eclipses me every day. It eclipses what I think I want to do.” Yet social media has been an undeniable aspect of Melissa’s ascent to literary stardom, and even has led to a few IRL friendships with artists like Emma Roberts and Petra Collins. Petra in particular can be counted on for giving amazing artistic recommendations, for example: “When Petra recommends me things, they’re actually good and dark and funny and, like, fucked in the way I like my art.”

Petra’s distinctively colorful dreamscape feels aesthetically similar to what Melissa accomplishes stylistically with THE PISCES. Both Petra’s photos and Melissa’s prose have a genuine grit beneath the gloss. Lucy’s dark epiphany “ Who was I if I wasn’t trying to make someone love me?” from THE PISCES feels like it could also be one of Petra’s neon signs. This other thought from Lucy, as she sinks into infatuation with her merman, has the same energy as one of Petra’s glittered-out music videos for Selena Gomez or Cardi B: “All I imagined I wanted was the love of someone beautiful like Theo — the kind of love where it stayed young and glittery and never got old.”

I asked Melissa why she so frequently mentions perfect love as being “ glittery” throughout the book.I wrote this book because I was so confused about that paradox of, like, why is it that the love that is going to hurt you feel so much more real than the love that is readily available and unconditional and right there?” This idea of romantic obsession being glittery parallels with Melissa’s fondness for fool’s gold. “Why does fool’s gold feel or seem so much more beautiful than real gold to me? Someone once told me a while ago when I was struggling with some of this stuff in my personal life, ‘You are just exchanging real gold for fool’s gold’ — and I’m like, Why do I love the fool’s gold so much?”

Now it’s midnight, a week after I spoke to Melissa, and my friend Lucy Mace and I are out on my fire escape talking about THE PISCES.

“I just love Melissa’s writing so much because it’s so brutally honest. She makes me feel, like, not crazy,” Lucy M. says to me, before pausing, considering how to phrase what she feels, twisting her green hair. When she says her next words, I can kind of hear myself in them, and the fangirls from Philly, and each of Melissa’s 600k Twitter followers — anyone who’s ever connected with one of her neon poems or perfect tweets.

“Or like — I think I just love her, because even though I am totally a bit nuts, she makes me feel like being crazy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” She smiles a little. “It’s not a bad thing at all.”

You can buy a copy of THE PISCES here.