I have to wonder how pissed Melissa Broder was when The Shape of Water came out. Not so much that it exists, but that it became such a thing. Because her book was almost definitely all done and in the can.
Anyway, this is an otherwise kind of formulaic “Fear of Flying” kind of breakup novel about a grad student who has an unfinished dissertation about Sappho’s poetry trying to figure out how to spend her final summer before her funding is pulled. She moves to Venice Beach to dogsit for her sister while trying to complete a draft. She joins a group therapy group dealing with sex addiction and obsessive behavior and she starts going on DTF Tindr dates.
She THINKS she meets a surfer (in that he never comes out of the water…even to go down on her)…and then it turns out he’s a merman.
So because, like The Shape of Water, this is a reversal of the Little Mermaid, with the flipped script of power differential, and because this is about a woman reeling from a recent breakup and confronting her own problematic behavior, the situation plays out in familiar and unfamiliar ways.
If Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast are the inherent animalistic nature of men, or if the Little Mermaid is about the unnecessary sacrifices one makes for marriage and family (in the book she literally dies from walking on land), then this one seems to almost be about a woman potentially dealing with her own Queerness. Not so much in the sense that she look inwards and realizes she’s into women or really anyone, so much as finding love first, and then learning to correctly understand the psychological narrative versus the cultural narrative that allows us to tell and understand our own love and feelings.
It’s interesting in a lot of ways, it’s not bad, and the connections to Greek philosophy, poetry, and mythology give an interesting erudition.