Sea shanties seem to be one of the early rages of 2021. I’ll likely address this as a separate topic soon, but today I would note their appropriateness for discussing Melissa Broder’s The Pieces. Despite my earlier concern about the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge for this year, my family helped me put one together. You see, January has become a bookish month for us. Not only are books frequent holiday gifts, they are also a great way to anticipate a year of reading. One of my categories was a book that makes you laugh out loud. For help in selecting such a book I consulted some websites and found The Pieces so listed a few times. The tie-in for sea shanties? It’s the story of a woman’s love affair with a merman.
What defines a book as laugh-out-loud funny is largely the reader. Yes, this is an amusing story with several parts that make the reader smile (or blush), but it seems to this reader a much more serious story than many reviewers suggest. Yes, the idea of a merman makes it less reality based that much straightforward literary fiction, but the protagonist is portrayed as dealing with very real human relationship issues. These made my reading of the book a pretty serious one. When a person feels inadequately loved, it’s no laughing matter. Sometimes such people (as the protagonist is portrayed as being) are driven to desperate measures, as the book suggests. Perhaps some people find this funny, but others of us see a serious message dressed up in fiction.
Part of the draw here is clearly the romance of the sea. Lucy (the narrator/protagonist) begins her relationship with Theo (the merman) because of the abusive kinds of relationships men have presented her with. It’s a sign of Broder’s writing ability that she can make this kind of story lighthearted enough that some would call it hilarious or laugh-out-loud funny. For me, however, when the issues raised are serious, even when couched in humor, there are underlying issues of sober import. Relationships are complex. Since the speculative element of a merman is thrown into the mix, it seems, many readers think the story is funny. This despite the suicide attempts of one of Lucy’s friends and the death of the dog she’s watching for her sister. For me laugh-out-loud books either have no serious consequences or dismiss such consequences as laughable in themselves. The Pieces, however, made me think and, ironically, take a renewed interest in sea shanties.