Chosen by Melissa Broder
Melissa Broder’s new novel, The Pisces, is an unusual love story about a woman and a merman. Below, the poet, essayist, and founder of the popular Twitter account @SoSadToday recommends six other tales of sand and sea.
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe (Vintage, $16). “Certainly he must be the strangest of all…he who was musing on the strangeness of things here,” writes Abe in this novel, a Sisyphean tale about a man held against his will at the bottom of a sand pit and put to work shoveling sand dunes that never stop rising. If this isn’t life, what is?
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante (Europa, $15). I had suspected that my professed reasons for not wanting to have children—too selfish, not sane enough, will regret it—could be easily overcome if I actually wanted children. But Ferrante’s 2006 novel about a mother on a seaside holiday affirms that those reasons can’t be discounted.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (Dover, $2.50). Come for the temporary escape from writer’s block, the ephemeral fantasy of a beautiful child, the inward spiral of romantic obsession. Stay for the choleric strawberries.
Outline by Rachel Cusk (Picador, $16). Writes Cusk: “When love turns to hatred, something is born into the world, a force of pure mortality. If love is what is held to make us immortal, hatred is the reverse.” This novel, featuring a Cusk-like narrator and set in Athens and on the Ionian Sea, explores the relationships that circumscribe our lives and how we don’t see those limits until the relationships are gone.
The Professor and the Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (NYRB Classics, $14). You’re on Venice Beach, reading one of the most achingly beautiful tales you’ve ever read, about an aging professor who longs for his past affair with a mermaid. Suddenly, you realize that nothing embodies love-as-addiction (your theme!) like the relationship between human and mermaid. You decide to write your own story of sirenic love, only yours will take place in the present—and it will be between woman and merman. Amen.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Norton, $15). This is the luscious prelude to Jane Eyre, in which “Bertha,” Mr. Rochester’s madwoman in the attic, tells the story of her Jamaican history and relocation to England. It’s all gaslight, love potion, and candles before the fire.