Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

fates and turiesHow much do we really know about each other?

C.J. and I will celebrate 20 years together late in 2016, but do even long-term couples like us really know each other?

Halfway through Lauren Groff’s new novel Fates and Furies a secret is revealed, one so dramatic that it forces one half of a decades long married couple to reconsider everything long thought to be true about the other.

The couple in question is Lotto and Mathilde.  The first half of the novel, Fates, follows Lotto from his strange southern childhood to young adulthood in New York where he tries to become an actor.  Long considered the leading light of his college theatre productions, Lotto fails to make it in New York.  For nearly a decade, he lives in near poverty with his wife Mathilde.  The two are in love.  Crazy in love.  Theirs is a love all who know them envy.

Mathilde works to support her husband and does all she can to be the perfect, supportive wife at home.  She seems entirely content with this role.  The two genuinely love each other.  One night, in a burst of creativity, Lotto writes a play.  The play is produced, becomes a success, and Lotto suddenly has a career as an important, popular playwright.

They do not have children, but other than that one disappointment, they live a dream life–apartment in New York, large house in the country.  All of it believably portrayed by Ms. Groff.  It’s a wonderful, delightful romance.  I rooted for Lotto and Mathilde and was happy to see things work out so well for them.

Then there is the twist.   Then another. Then another.

When the book switches to Furies the focus shifts to Mathilde.  We finally learn the story of her life, the tragedies she faced, and discover why she was always so willing to be the supportive wife instead of the celebrated artist she could have been.  And we learn that what we thought was true about Lotto and Mathilde was not.

Fates and Furies is a novel about secrets.  What secrets do we keep from everyone we know?  Many people today preach against secrets saying that people should be open with those they love, tell all, clear the air.  You’re only as sick as your secrets.  But what if the secret you keep is something that will certainly change your life for the worse should it become known.  Would you tell it?  Would you tell it after twenty years of happy marriage?

And what if you found out about it from someone else? Would the person your partner was before your marriage change your marriage now that you know?

Because I’ve been asked what I think of “the twists” I want to say a little more about it, but because I don’t want to engage in spoilers this is difficult to do.  Both are secrets long kept that are revealed one to the reader and one to the other characters.  Both are terrible things one character had to live through.  Lately, there has been this tendency among writers to heap extreme suffering on their characters.  While Ms. Groff never goes the full Yanagahira on her characters in Fates and Furies some readers may have difficulty with the twists here.  There are a lot of them.  But if we consider the events of a full lifetime, which is what Ms. Groff portrays, I don’t think she has gone overboard.

One secret, twist A, occurred in early childhood and would be terrible enough without the other secret, twist B, which happens while in college.  But twist B is the one that threatens the marriage.  It’s the secret that could be seen as a betrayal.  In order for the character to get to twist B, twist A had to happen.  It’s interesting that twist A which resulted in serious suffering for an entire family of characters is the more forgivable secret.  It’s difficult to hold a character responsible for actions taken in early childhood.  Twist B, which resulted in career success and a  happy marriage, is the one that could ruin it all.

I wish I could speak more openly about the second half of the book, but I will keep its secrets.

I picked up Fates and Furies from my library on the same day that I read and article about Presidents Obama’s favorite book of 2015. Turns out, it was Fates and Furies.  And it turns out we both have the same favorite book of the year.  I don’t pick a single book as a yearly favorite read, but I am adding Fates and Furies to my top ten list for 2015, a very last minute edition.

Which kind of makes it a twist.

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8 Comments

  1. Love the cover, but I’m not sure it’s my kind of story. You’ve got me intrigued, though, and theorizing about the twists…

  2. Sam Sattler says:

    Great review, James. I haven’t posted mine yet because I’m still trying to make certain that it does not contain any spoilers. Definitely one of my favorite 2015 novels.

    1. I really wish I knew someone who’s read it so I could discuss the entire book. I think it asks some very interesting questions and pushes the reader to consider the morality of things in an uncomfortable way. And I loved how much life she gave to the minor characters. The woman above their basement apartment in part one, for example. A lesser writer would have must brushed by this character, but I felt like I knew her life story as well as Lotto and Mathildes. I meant to talk about that in my review, but it was running long already.

      1. Sam Sattler says:

        It’s definitely one of the trickiest books to review that I’ve encountered in recent years. Way too many ways to inadvertently spoil it for those still planning to read it and, as you say, so many great characters to explore – but some of them lead down the spoiler path, also. Fates and Furies made my best of year list and I’ll remember it for a while.

  3. lailaarch says:

    This is one of the books from my reading year that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s also one of the ones I’d be most likely to re-read. Mathilde is one of my favorite characters in many years. It’s in my top three for the year.

  4. I have this on Kindle and want to read it. Busy with book group books at the moment. There should be a twitter feed for those who have read it and can talk about the ending. That might be a good idea for several books. Happy New Year to your lovely family. We are at this moment in different years. Kind of weird.

  5. Jay says:

    Great review, James. I’ve been hearing about this one for awhile and I think you may have finally pushed it into my to be read camp. Unfortunately, since I didn’t read your post until 2016, your “confounded” Triple Dog Dare will make me have to wait until April. 🙂

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