Fates and Furies was written by Lauren Groff and published this year to much critical acclaim. The novel is the story of both a very ordinary and quietly extraordinary marriage. The novel is broken up into two sections – “Fates” is the story of Lotto, the husband, and “Furies”, the portion for Mathilde, his wife.
The novel opens with Lotto and Mathilde as young, 22-year olds on their honeymoon, freshly married after just two weeks of knowing each other. Lancelot, Lotto, Satterwaite was born rich, white and Southern – a golden boy from the very start. The fates have been kind to Lotto and though he is privileged, he is also incredibly genuine and almost unfailingly kind. Lotto and Mathilde meet at Vassar at an after-party for a production of Hamlet in which Lotto starred. The son of an enormously wealthy water-bottling magnate, Lotto is a man of immense charm and is someone for whom things seem to always come easily. He is, shall we say, quite experienced with the ladies, but when he sees Mathilde across the room of the party, his whole world stops. He crushes his way through the crowd to meet her, drops to one knee and then-and-there asks her to marry him, which she does a couple of weeks later. Lotto’s mother is furious that he has married so young and to a complete stranger and she cuts him off from his fortune. Young and broke, Lotto and Mathilde spend their first years together in a cramped basement apartment in New York where Lotto tries to make it as an actor. Mathilde, like everyone in Lotto’s life, believes that he is a genius who is destined for great things and so she doesn’t mind working long days at an art gallery to support them both. Though they barely have enough money to order a pizza, these early days are filled with a sort of magic. They host parties, their tiny apartment bursting at the seams with all of their college friends, their nights are consumed with passion and sex, and you just know, that even though they are crazy and young, they are right together. Lotto doesn’t make it as an actor but he does become a hugely successful playwright. As time goes on, Lotto and Mathilde move up and out in the world but they always maintain the fiercest bond. Lotto may be rich and famous, but Mathilde is his base for everything.
If Lotto’s “Fates” is a perfect distillation of his story, then my oh my, does Mathilde’s “Furies” capture the complexity of her character. This isn’t one of those books where the seemingly perfect marriage is obliterated in the second half of the novel. It so much more subtle and honest. Mathilde’s love for Lotto and their marriage is completely true. But just as true is the side to her life that she never reveals to her husband. Her past is a complete mystery – Lotto believes that she was orphaned but in Furies we come to know the truth. Mathilde was hurt long in her past and she has nursed that hurt into a powerful, calculated and concealed rage. Its easy to think, Well she lied to Lotto, she must be crazy or using him, but it is so not that simple. She keeps this other side of herself hidden because of her genuine love for him – this other part of her would hurt him, and she can’t bear that. The amazing thing is that the more you learn about Mathilde, the more you come to understand that people are no one thing. A kind and loving wife can also be a woman you know nothing about. “Furies” is an engrossing section where everything you thought you knew takes on weightier and darker meanings.
It has taken me about a week to write this because OH MY GOSH you should just read this book. It is a very difficult book to talk about without spoiling and you don’t want it spoiled. Groff’s writing is beautiful – lush and spare at the same time. Shakespeare and Greek literature are heavy influences and Groff writes in parenthetical asides from some omniscient presence that are exacting and revealing. I read an article hyping Fates and Furies as “the next Gone Girl” but I don’t feel that that is at all accurate. I hope the comparison means that F&F will have the broad readership that it deserves but to expect the same sort of crazy-woman thriller is a disservice to F&F. Fates & Furies is a thrilling, compelling, can’t-stop-reading book that explores the complexity of individuals and how often it is that the better you know someone, the less you see them.