The Pisces (and donuts to satisfy her cravings)

The book: The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

This weekend, I binge-read The Pisces by Melissa Broder. I heard a lot of buzz about this novel, because many book bloggers that I follow have already reviewed it. Between their (mostly) glowing reviews, and the book’s appearance on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, I was really eager to read The Pisces. The basic premise of the book is that Lucy, a 9th-year PhD student, breaks up with her non-committal boyfriend of 8 years, causing her to fall into a severe depression. A couple of “episodes” result in her spending the summer in California dog-sitting for her older sister, while attempting to fill her emptiness with sex and relationships.

My first impression of The Pisces was that the narrator’s worldview was pretty disturbing. Lucy is simultaneously emotionally needy and emotionally unavailable, which results in her being infatuated with love and sex, yet also never satisfied in relationships. She is also impulsive and selfish, and routinely abandons all progress toward a healthy mental state at even the slightest hint of a potential romance. Still, I could not help but root for Lucy to break her destructive relationship patterns and make healthier choices. This was part of the addictive allure of The Pisces: Lucy is frustrating, but she is also believable and she’s somebody that you want to be okay in the end.

What I found most interesting about Lucy was that despite being disturbed and depressed, she is still a pretty reliable narrator. In some ways, Lucy deludes herself into thinking that her lifestyle of seeking romance is sustainable, but she also has some awareness that she is deluding herself: “There was something about the morning of a date that tricked me…It punctured the nothingness. Now I felt passion and love for everything.”

This brings me to my favorite thing about The Pisces: Lucy’s profound and relatable descriptions of existential despair. Melissa Broder did such a beautiful job of articulating the despair and confusion that is felt yet unspoken among many, like in this scene where Lucy talks to her sister’s dog while she is sick: “I heard myself talking to the dog, and it reminded me that I existed. Existence always looked like something other than I thought it would.” Or in this scene, where Lucy reflects on her need for romance: “Was it ever real: the way we felt about another person? Or was it always a projection of something we needed or wanted regardless of them?”

While I personally enjoyed The Pisces, I should point out that it is NOT for everyone! Lucy’s impulsive and destructive behavior could be very triggering for some readers, especially those who struggle with sex and love addiction, borderline personality disorder, or severe depression. There are also a couple disturbing scenes involving animal neglect, and several extremely graphic sex scenes. So those are all things to keep in mind before reading this book! But with those caveats, I still enjoyed and would recommend this book.

The bake: matcha green tea donuts

At the beginning of The Pisces, when Lucy has just broken up with her boyfriend and is severely depressed, she craves donuts and drives to buy them while under the influence of Ambien. It is this donut-incident that indirectly results in her spending the summer in California and spinning out. My bake for The Pisces is a tribute to that “donut-incident”: matcha green tea donuts with chocolate glaze. (Note: the flavor of the donut isn’t symbolic of anything in the book; I just recently bought a lovely matcha powder and wanted to use it in baking).

Matcha green tea donuts, glazed in chocolate and dusted with a bit of matcha powder.

To make the donuts, I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour, but I replaced the nutmeg with matcha powder (and also used oat-milk instead of buttermilk, since that is what I had in my kitchen). Then, I glazed the donuts with the chocolate glaze recipe shown here (also from KAF) and sprinkled a bit of matcha powder over them.

These donuts turned out wonderfully! I was worried that the matcha flavor might not come through, but it absolutely did! These were definitely good enough to satisfy my own donut cravings, so hopefully they will be satisfying to others as well. I plan to hand deliver these treats to my neighbors so, unlike in the novel, there should be no incidents of driving under the influence involved with these donuts. 😉

Donuts are best enjoyed with a good book and a cup of chocolate oat milk!

(donuts inspired by the cover of) Thick

The book: Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

This week I finished Thick: And Other Essays by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. Thick is a collection of essays that explore what it is to be a black woman in America. Each essay looks at how race intersects with aspects of society including socioeconomic status, profession, and ethnicity.

My first impression of Thick was that the writing style was academic and formal; this wasn’t entirely surprising since Dr. McMillan Cottom is an academic (she is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University). Although the writing is formal at times, Dr. McMillan Cottom also writes poetically and accessibly throughout Thick. She perfectly sprinkles personal anecdotes throughout her essays, allowing the reader to connect abstract ideas to real peoples’ lived experiences.

I also found Thick to be enlightening and profound. Some people told me that Thick didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know, but that was not my experience. This could be a reflection of my lack of expertise in the field of sociology, or perhaps my ignorance as a white woman in America (or, more likely, a combination of both). But even when Thick tackled concepts that I already understood at some level, I felt like I was learning something new: Dr. McMillan Cottom really dissects and examines the nuances of race in America, allowing me (and probably other readers) to process information and expand upon my perspectives that were previously shallow or one-dimensional.

So much of Thick was eye-opening and memorable, but one of the concepts that stuck with me most was that capitalism and racism serve each other in a positive feedback loop. This is tackled in the chapter “In the Name of Beauty,” where McMillan Cottom explains how “beauty isn’t actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order” (the same is true of most “lifestyle” preferences that are promoted by capitalism).

The other idea that stuck strongly with me was one that I already knew (in a shallow way) prior to reading Thick: that white men are more likely to be seen as competent in America, regardless of their level of expertise or their actual competence. Not only are white men viewed as competent, but social order forces women and people of color (especially women of color) into situations where they are likely to fail, resulting in people of power treating them as incompetent. This is explored in much more depth in the chapter “Dying to be Competent.” A major takeaway from this chapter was the importance of listening to people other than white men, especially women and non-binary people of color: because their social status often forces them into positions of less power, it is especially important that we do listen and take them seriously.

Overall, I highly recommend Thick. Dr. McMillan Cottom uses the perfect blend of academic and prosaic writing to illustrate issues of race in America. You can read an excerpt from the chapter “Dying to be Competent” here.

The bake: spice cake donuts with chocolate glaze.

I had a tough time choosing a bake inspired by Thick, mostly because the essays describing systemic racism in America (which I benefit from) did not exactly fuel my appetite for sweets. Eventually, I decided that I would make a shareable treat inspired by the cover of Thick. I ended up settling on donuts glazed with chocolate, and then drizzled with white and pink icing (to resemble the white and pink writing on the dark cover of the book).

The finished donut, next to the book cover that inspired it.

I baked these cake donuts from King Arthur Flour, then iced them in this chocolate glaze (also from KAF). I modified the donut recipe by adding a bit of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. Once the donuts were glazed and cool, I melted some white chocolate chips and drizzled that mixture over the donuts to get the finished, decorated donut. The pink drizzle is just the melted white chocolate with a drop of pink gel food coloring.

My verdict on the donuts is that they are tasty, but definitely not as “aesthetically pleasing” as I had wanted. I am okay with this, because as Dr. McMillan Cottom points out in “In the Name of Beauty,” beauty is a construct. What matters most to me is that the donuts taste good (which they do), so that my friends and co-workers can enjoy them.