Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: Fates and Furies

Marriage is unknowable to anyone but the couple — and, in Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff illustrates that even they may not know the complete story.

In her third novel, Groff created an interesting, complex view of a marriage between two very different people who appear deeply in love and totally committed to each other.

The first half of the book, "Fates," captures the tale of Lancelot "Lotto" Sutterwhite, a walking contradiction who finds his calling in the theater. The second half of the tale, "Furies," is told from Mathilde's wifely perspective.

The sections brilliantly capture the characters: "Fates" is careless, while "Furies" is tight and angry. (I picture Tilda Swindon as Mathilde; strange I don't have the same bead on Lotto's Hollywood counterpart.) 

I like the retelling of tales, so to have the same life story told from two different perspectives is brilliant, and a very good demonstration about how little we truly know others.


Lotto kept many friends around him so he would feel well-liked, even loved. He let them ebb and flow as they needed, drawing all of his energy from them, but primarily from Mathilde. In contrast, Mathilde kept people around to satisfy Lotto and for an almost business-like relationship that never quite reached friendship. Lotto skimmed across the top of life, paying attention to things outside himself when they interested him; Mathilde was always looking out — looking out for Lotto and their survival.

The tone and energy of each of the halves was deliciously different. The author thought of the stories as two books (à la Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge), but I agree with the editor: putting the volumes together was the right move. Not only did it require both halves to be read as a single tale, but it also required them both to be spare enough to comprise a single novel.

This interesting tale, a "he said/she said" story full of contradictions, was not flawless. The third-person narrator is unnecessarily interrupted by a Greek chorus, omnipotent and occasionally foretelling (which, only on a rare occasion, was welcome). The author used very specific words, which I looked up with a click on my Kindle — and I am still pondering the value of that specificity against the distraction. I love new language, but I almost felt as if Groff handed me a box of vocabulary words.

The ending felt abrupt, so I overthought it and completely misread it. Thankfully, the author was able to set me straight after I met her at her lecture, and I could enjoy it even more.


I am a fan of Groff and enjoyed this novel. I would recommend it, and her other two novels: The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. I'll soon be reading her short story selection Delicate Edible Birds, too.

So, are you more Lotto or Mathilde?

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