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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
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Fates and Furies (2015)

by Lauren Groff

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Lauren Groff’s FATES AND FURIES tells the story of a marriage as if it were a fable. The story has elements one might expect—love, support, struggle, success, and failure. But it also has multiple Shakespearean touches that make it unusual and more interesting—revenge, murder, suicide, homoeroticism, incest, abandonment, deceit, and disillusionment.

Using dual narratives, one by the man and the other by the woman, Groff explores common marital themes, including changes in the relationship over time, the intensity the feelings, how the partners experience events differently, role playing, and the things each brings to the relationship. Her characterizations of the two Satterwhites, Lancelot (Lotto) and Mathilde, give the novel its most interesting flavor.

Groff introduces Lotto in the first half (“Fates”). He comes from wealth and position in a small southern town. Indeed his name and that of his father, Gawain, suggest all the “happy ever-aftering that was known as Camelot.” His family believes that Lotto is fated for greatness and this is not lost on him. Despite some rough patches in adolescence, he goes north for college and begins to see himself as some type of matinee idol. He marries the mysterious Mathilde right out of college and immediately is disowned by his witchy widowed mother, Antoinette (“let them eat cake”), who sees the match as unworthy of her son. Poverty, failure and struggle ensue, with Mathilde doing most of the heavy lifting, until she convinces Lotto that he is indeed fated for greatness, not as an actor, but instead as a playwright. Success follows. Groff portrays Lotto as a bit of a pretty boy, who is long on looks and short on self-perception. The summaries of his plays Groff includes in her narrative suggest a modest talent, but certainly not Shakespearean. Certainly one hated reviewer seemed to see his shortcomings clearly enough. Without Mathilde’s wifely nurturing (and strategic editing), one wonders what would have become of Lotto. As a standalone, this part of the novel would have made a pretty bland story.

The second half is Mathilde’s story, and what a strange and surprising one it is. “Furies” is the title of this section and that tells it all. Mathilde, originally Aurélie, grew up in France under modest circumstances. Following the death of her brother (did she do it?) she is abandoned by her family. She spends time with a cold grandmother in Paris and a mean old uncle in Pennsylvania, before attending Vassar with all expenses paid by wealthy New York art dealer. (One needs to read the book to fully appreciate the nature of that relationship.) Suffice it to say that almost nothing about Mathilde is as one would expect from reading Lotto’s section. She is indeed a “Fury” bent on revenge and retribution for slights to her beloved Lotto. Mathilde’s narrative serves as a counterpoint to Lotto’s. While his is somewhat bland, hers crackles with strangeness and excitement. Unfortunately, much of it seems “over the top” and even cartoonish. Can one really believe the female detective Mathilde hires to wreck the life of Lotto’s former friend?

Groff’s writing is generally excellent, with lyrical passages and descriptions. The plot is engaging. However, she risks losing readers with the slow and melodramatic development of the first section and the utter strangeness of the second. The multiplicity of themes and literary references can generate book group discussions, but can be unnecessary distractions. ( )
  ozzer | Mar 24, 2017 |
Fates and Furies is the portrait of a marriage. The first half, Fates, is about Lotto, the narcissistic playwright who is married to Mathilda. They meet at the end of college and marry two weeks later. Mathilde lovingly supports Lotto while he struggles with his acting career. She remains a devoted wife after gives up on acting and becomes a supremely successful playwright. However, because of his extreme self-centeredness, he actually knows little about her other than the fact that, in his words, she is a saint. Lotto’s section is a little slow and he is not that likeable, although at times he was so pathetic that I did feel sorry for him. I considered abandoning this book a couple of times.

The second half of the novel, Furies, is Mathilde’s story. It begins in her childhood and continues throughout her entire marriage to Lotto, replaying its key moments from her perspective. We learn that Mathilde is not who Lotto thought she was. At all. I am so glad that I kept reading. It reminded me of Gone Girl, in that while reading the first part, I was thinking, sure this is okay but what is everyone making such a fuss about? And then BAM, the story takes a turn that leaves your head spinning. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book. The second half made it totally worth it.

Since this book got off to a slow start, I didn’t read very carefully in the beginning. Upon finishing the book, I wish I had and I’m tempted to go back and re-read Lotto’s story since so much of Mathilde’s story is Lotto’s story turned upside down.

(Side note: President Obama named this book as his favorite of 2015. I have to mention that I was kind of surprised that he named this book as his favorite because there is fair amount of sex in it and some of it is on the strange side. It isn’t super graphic but it is descriptive. I’m not saying that I think Obama should be a prude. I’m proud of him from not shying away from putting this book on his public favorites list and not worrying that his detractors would call him perverted or something.)

Fate and Furies is any examination of one marriage that raises the question for any marriage: Can you ever really know your partner? I think it would make a great book club selection to discuss this question further. Thanks for recommending this book Obama! ( )
  mcelhra | Mar 24, 2017 |
I started this book believing that I would not finish it and would not like it. That almost turned out to be the case, and yet I felt oddly compelled to keep going. The style of writing is difficult to wrap your head around at times. If you can manage to slog your way through the first 200 pages, which is Lotto's story - "Fates", you will be rewarded when you read Mathilde's story - "Furies." Sometimes what appears to be a superlative marriage to all that observe it can turn out to be, under the surface, totally unexpected and shocking. ( )
  flourgirl49 | Mar 20, 2017 |
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets (or at least the things that you don’t say!). Fates and Furies presents the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, from each of their perspectives (Fates—Lotto’s story and Furies—Mathilde’s story). At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but we begin to understand that things are even more complicated than they have seemed. I am not sure how I feel about this novel—it reminded me somewhat of Gone Girl (a novel that I really disliked—primarily because of the characters). There is an ongoing thread of sadness and loneliness that is heartbreaking because you can see how it could have been different if there had been some level of trust. 3 out of 5 stars. ( )
  marsap | Feb 13, 2017 |
1 star seems harsh but according to goodreads one star = "did not like it" so I'm sticking with it. I love a good book featuring dysfunctional characters, but I had to slog through this one. The first 60% was mind-numbingly boring. From reviews I expected it to be boring, but it was worse than I anticipated. The last 40% was slightly better but I was expecting a big twist or revelation, and again, I was disappointed.

I found the entire book over-written and pretentious, with an abundance of metaphors that had me shaking my head and rolling my eyes. The characters didn't feel real to me and I felt no emotional connection to anyone. The sex scenes were gratuitous and boring. The tedious plays did nothing to enlighten the reader and only interrupted the story. I finished the book because it was a book club selection but I wish I had followed my instincts and given up on it. ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
‘Fates and Furies,’’ Lauren Groff’s pyrotechnic new novel, tells the story of a marriage and of marriage writ large. It is also an exploration of character — good, evil, flat, round, genetic, forged by circumstance, all of the above — and a wild play upon literary history. Groff grafts the contemporary fiction of suburban anomie and New York manners onto künstlerroman, myth, and epic in a dazzling fusion of classic and (post)modern, tragedy and comedy.
 
Lauren Groff is a writer of rare gifts, and “Fates and Furies” is an unabashedly ambitious novel that delivers — with comedy, tragedy, well-deployed erudition and unmistakable glimmers of brilliance throughout.
 
The novel tells the story of Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite. He is the darling of a prosperous Florida family – “Lotto was special. Golden”. She, an apparent “ice princess”, is the survivor of a past about which her husband has only the fuzziest idea beyond it being “sad and dark”, and above all “blank behind her”. The first half of the book offers Lotto’s view of their life together as he rises from charming but failed actor to celebrated playwright, thanks in no small part to Mathilde’s editorial finesse. The second half reveals that Mathilde has, through implacable willpower, transcended circumstances that read like a hotchpotch of Greek tragedy, fable and detective novel. Much of what Lotto takes for granted in his good fortune, it turns out, is due to Mathilde’s ruthless machination, right down to their marriage itself. She genuinely loves him, but she initially set out to win him for mercenary reasons.
 
Lotto’s story is fairly plausible, a life that might transpire in the world the rest of us inhabit; Mathilde’s story contains more outlandishly fictional twists than those of David Copperfield, The Goldfinch’s Theo Decker, and Becky Sharp combined.
 
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A thick drizzle from the sky, like a curtain's sudden sweeping.
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Hot milk of a world, with its skin of morning fog in the window.
In her sleep her eyelids were so translucent that he always thought if he looked hard, he could see her dreams pulsing like jellyfish across her brain.
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