Book Review – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Another of the fantastic novels recommended to me by friends, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an examination of a marriage that breaks from the traditions of so many marriage-centered novels. While Lotto and Mathilde face many challenges along the way, they tend to have more faith in their marriage than they do in themselves individually. Exploring the ways they view themselves as well as their spouse, Groff’s writing style is unique and not just in creating two characters with such distinct voices and perspectives.

Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite was born to privilege. With family money spouting from a bottled water business and parents who thought he could do no wrong, Lotto seemed poised for greatness from an early age and his mother especially encouraged that attitude to flourish within himself. But everything changed with the sudden death of his father and his mother’s grief-stricken turn inward. Eventually shipped off to a private school in the north, Lotto drifted easily through school and girls until the day he met Mathilde just a few weeks before graduating college. Within two weeks the pair had eloped to the shock of their family and friends. While they struggle to make ends meet in the wake of being financially cut off by his disapproving mother, Lotto is certain of one thing—his and Mathilde’s love for each other—but how much of the Mathilde he loves is really her and how much is who he thinks she is? Does it even matter?

Broken into two halves, ‘Fates’ focuses on Lotto and his perspective, beginning in his youth and carrying through his marriage, his failed career as an actor and eventual success as a playwright while ‘Furies’ presents Mathilde’s perspective on the marriage and gives a bit of her own far more troubled origins. ‘Fates’ progresses in a more traditional manner with events presented pretty much chronologically. The chapters are long and with Lotto’s personality so heavy on the page, it began to grate. It’s a well-developed character but that particular personality is one I have a hard time with at such great lengths, even with the nuance and originality in Groff’s style. Being able to see the aspects of Mathilde’s character that Lotto is (perhaps willfully) blind to only made me more exasperated with him so that by the time the novel switches from his perspective to Mathilde’s I was beyond ready for the change. ‘Furies’ was far more to my liking and though it’s just as clear from her side that there are aspects to Lotto’s character that she fails to see or understand, her self-awareness is more pronounced—though it too proves distorted in its own ways.

It would be impossible to discuss Groff’s novel without addressing her writing style. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. Though the characters’ perspectives are presented in the third person, an objective(ish) narrator interjects periodically in parentheticals to inform the reader of the facts of certain situations; so the reader never quite becomes fully immersed in their skewed view of things and is able to see both sides clearer. The way Groff plays with form and presentation in her prose is incredibly breathtaking and fresh. I will probably be adding a few more of her novels to my future reading lists.


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