Fates And Furies / Lauren Groff

The online reviews of Fates and Furies present a mixed bag, with readers either loving or disliking this novel. I found myself caught between both camps, but that may be explained by the fact that Fates and Furies is the same story told twice, from different perspectives. It is an examination of a long lasting marriage, first described from the husband’s point of view, with the second half focusing on the wife’s recount of what the reader already believes to be true.

The “fates” portion of the story opens the novel and it largely concerns the husband, Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite. The author describes him as “the one we can’t look away from. He’s the shining one.” And indeed he is the golden boy who effortlessly wins the hearts of every woman he meets in his college days, and though never staying long with any of them, he remains good friends with all. This pattern changes when he meets another fellow student, Mathilde, and totally captivated, asks her to marry him even before they have been properly introduced.

The couple are certainly opposite personalities. Born into wealth, Lotto has always been told that he is destined for greatness. Despite this, he is kindness itself, a person who trusts everyone and is honest to a fault. Mathilde is much more reserved, perceived by fellow students to be an “ice queen”, and a person no one can believe Lotto is destined to spend his life with. She also has a hidden past, darkened by tragedy. After college, this “golden boy” does meet with setbacks—in his chosen career, acting, he proves not to be particularly gifted. Despite this, Mathilde’s faith in him barely wavers. It is only when he decides to become a playwright that he achieves world-wide fame.

The second half of the book, the “furies” section, shifts to Mathilde’s telling of their married life together. This is where Groff begins to take the reader by surprise with unexpected plot twists. Lotto’s description of events are turned upside down when Mathilde presents her side of the story. This “ice queen” has a compulsion to settle scores with people who have wronged her or her husband, despite the smile she wears at all times. There is one certainty, however; her devotion to Lotto is the one true thing in her life. This emotion though is not enough to soften her into being able to develop friendships with others.

To me, Lotto never seemed a credible character. I did not see him as particularly gifted, and his fame as a playwright came without any effort on his part. If his story alone had been the centerpiece of this novel, it would not have won my interest. The story is saved by Mathilde’s account of her life and marriage, and the complexity of her fury makes the book interesting. She is the one who peels back the curtain of their relationship and fills in all the blanks Lotto has either glossed over or had no clue about.

This novel is less about a marriage and more about the personalities a husband and wife bring into it. As the reviews show, the juxtaposition of the book’s two halves either proves too unsettling for some or delights others. Groff’s writing style does require effort to untangle. Her sentences are fragmented, and at times its bawdy aspect are cringe worthy. But for this reader, it is the novel’s second part that rescues the whole. It contains a disturbing richness which kept me fully absorbed until the last page was turned.

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