"From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia, an exhilarating novel about marriage, creativity, art, and perception. Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation. 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. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years. At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart"--
Well, for whatever reason, I didn't love it. I forced myself to keep reading it. So sad to share this.
I've been puzzling over why F&F and I didn't become friends. I'm still not really sure, but I will say that I didn't like any of the characters, especially the two main characters. (I can't remember when I've read a book where so many people committed suicide and where I cared so little about their passings.) And I hated reading the text; the writing felt forced to me, like it had been heavily workshopped.
Just my thoughts, and you may feel completely different after your read. I certainly hope you do.
But oh, that ending—in which Groff falls prey to some really serious authorial hubris. I actually stepped back a moment, after closing the book, and wondered if that was the point she was trying to make with this awful deus ex machina action. Is it a meta-commentary on her own novel, on her godlike role as its author? But... nah, I don't think so. Not after an effort like that. I think she was the victim of her own all-too-human hamartia there. Which kind of makes the whole thing awesome, but not in the way she'd intended, I don't think, and as a reader it frustrated the hell out of me.
I had a love-hate relationship with the book in general. Didn't like the writing style, which I found a bit too show-offy—like someone who comes to a party with their clever lines at the ready—but style is personal, and I got used to it. And I really did like what she was doing with the book. But the ending made me gnash my teeth. Whom the gods would destroy, I guess.
Anyway, I'm glad I read it. Groff's talented, and I'm interested to see what she comes up with next (and need to go back and read Arcadia.
And yet, throughout this novel the reader knows there is much unsaid. Lotto and Mathilde are good people, and yet hugely flawed. They are, in fact, a little difficult to like. Both had traumatic experiences that defined their lives, and they keep certain details secret even from one another. Halfway through the book the narrative voice shifts from Lotto to Mathilde, revealing some of the secrets and providing back story to events that occurred earlier in the novel. Their “perfect couple” image suffers, but they become more human as a result. And it is in this second half that Lauren Groff truly finds her voice, bringing a depth of emotion to Mathilde’s character that was missing in Lotto’s section of the novel.
This was a riveting portrait of a marriage, that I found hard to put down.
Lotto comes from a family of Florida hicks turned nouveau riche when his father discovers springs on his land and launches a successful bottling company. His father died while Lotto was still a child, and his overbearing mother, Antoinette, becomes an odd mix of lower class with money, staying in the same run-down house on the coast, sending Lotto to an elite school, and spending her time watching a home shopping network and buying everything she sees offered. At his Ivy League university, Lotto studies to become an actor. He's handsome enough and has a je ne sais quoi that attracts both men and women. He's know as quite the playboy--until he meets cool, elegant, and somewhat mysterious Mathilde. (I imagined her as looking something like JFK Jr's wife Carolyn.) His first words to her are "Marry me." In Lotto's account, her answer is "Sure"; in hers, it's, "No." Two weeks later they tie the knot. I don't want to give away too much of the rest; suffice it to say that Lotto struggles until he discovers his real talent is as playwright , and Mathilde is the perfect, patient, supportive wife.
But there's a lot to Mathilde that no one really knows, and we learn about it in "Furies," her story. It will change the way you think of her and the way you view some of the people and events in "Fates." Enough said. (And I hope you don't read any of the reviews that give too much away!)
Some readers have complained that Groff's writing is at times "overblown." It may be, but I believe that is purposely done and helps to create the atmosphere and develop the plot and characters. The only thing I could really have done without is the long passages supposedly taken from Lotto's plays. Maybe they were just a little too avant-garde for me, but I found them too precious, too self-consciously "artsy" and obscure, and I couldn't imagine that I (or anyone else, for that matter) would ever pay to see them.
This book grabbed me and then surprised me, and I'm happy to recommend it.
The only reason I kept reading was because the reviews said the best parts are from the voice of Mathilde in the last third of the book. This was where it seemed Groff read Gone Girl and thought "ooooh. I should do that too!"
I should have known this wasn't my thing when reviews said it was filled with dark comedy, which I've learned goes totally over my head. Between Lotto's upbringing by a washed-up mermaid performer and a redneck from Mississippi and then Mathilde's secret French beginnings, prostitute grandmother and wealthy criminal Philadelphia uncle I kept thinking, "maybe other readers find this amusing?"
I guess I sometimes just don't run with the crowd. My apologies to Ms Groff. I may try another book in the future, because I admire skill in telling a story, even if it is one that doesn't appeal to me, personally.
Tags: 2016-read, everyone-else-liked-it, give-me-my-time-back, not-to-my-taste, read, read-on-recommendation, thought-i-was-gonna-like
This book has received lots of mixed reviews. Most people seem to either love it or struggle to finish it & give up. But I'm squarely in the middle. I did finish it (on audio), but didn't love it. But I didn't hate it either. I found it disturbing in a subtle, Gone Girl type of way. It's not nearly as in-your-face as that one, but there are some vague similarities and a few "what??" moments. The second half of the book moves more quickly and tends to be more engaging. I wanted to like this more than I did because I thought it was well written, but I was ultimately waiting for a big ending that never came.
They do in fact fall in love and marry early at 22, so early that his mother takes his trust money away. And so we see the twenty year marriage of these two, his acting turning into the more successful playwriting. Her working to keep them afloat and supporting his genius. We see them through their parties and the eyes of their friends.
Then the second half of the book ,The Furies, retells this whole saga, only now the narrator tells the same scenes giving us Mathilde's insights. Everything we think we saw happen now becomes explained and intertwined through the troubled history of a girl once named Aurelie whose troubled life may or may not explain her motivation. Suffice it to say there is deceit, blackmail, and cruelty. Reading the second half makes you go back and rethink the first and also rethink the nature of what determines a person's goodness. The writing is clever with insightful images and the story line had me at hello.
It's a story about a marriage that lasted over 20 years. The first half is called Fates and is from the man, Lotto's, point-of-view. He was a failed actor who eventually became a successful playwright. The second half is called Furies and is from the point-of-view of the woman, Mathilde, who had a secret past the man never knew about. During the Furies half, there were several boring extracts from plays that Lotto wrote. I skimmed through them since they added nothing to the story at that time for me.
Although they were very well-developed, it was hard to like these two annoying and disgusting protagonists. I just didn't care to read all the descriptions of their pre-martial and marital sexual encounters and there was a lot of use of the "F" word. Totally unnecessary.
This novel was described as "A dazzling exam of a marriage." I didn't find it dazzling at all. Two Stars.
For starters, the title is all wrong. I came up with a few suggestions I think might be better:
- Sex, Lies, and Playacting
- Lar’s Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Part One: Fates; Part Two: Furies
- What’s Love Got to Do with It
- Indecent Proposal
I guess all those titles were kind of taken. I could go on, but the game grows tiresome.
Obviously, Fates and Furies is sexual. In the Fates half of the novel, the sex is paired with parties. In Furies, it’s paired with depression. That’s the simplest summary of this book: Sex. Sex. Party. Sex. Party. Party. Sex. Sadness. Sex. Depression. Sex. Sex. Double-sad face. Oh yeah, and there is a lot of playwriting too.
I’m no prude, but too much is too much. Also, it’s not believable. In what world does a man with a thousand partners, come together with a woman with virtually none, and have a sex life that is perfect? Four times a day? On the beach? In the stairway of an apartment building? Oh, we just had a huge fight, honey, and you hurt my feelings, but now I’m horny? Only in my dreams would my wife try to seduce me if I said the things Lotto says to his wife. Sorry, this kind of desperate genitalia grabbing, bangy-bang against the wall decade-after-decade marriage is only believable in erotica and the absolute best of marriages (which Lotto and Mathilde do not have, in my opinion).
Paired with Lauren Groff’s flowery, metaphor-filled writing style, the sex seemed over the top. I was reminded of that scene from 10 Things I Hate About You, the one where it is revealed the guidance counselor writes erotica. That’s how Groff writes here. She clearly has a way with words, but by the twenty-ninth sex scene, she’s clearly running out of ideas of how to make it original. The result, copulation that alludes to, but does not actually involve, rockets, vanilla ice cream cones, oysters, and so forth, ad infinitum. A better idea: cut eighty percent of these scenes by eighty percent and worry not about the language of Lotto’s “quivering member”.
(You do realize that this is the kind of book that’s going to be read at book clubs. It will be, in many years to follow, added to book groups that will be made up of many elderly people who are likely to suffer heart attacks at the shock of such sexual acts. The elderly should be sheltered from such vile things.)
Moving on, there are so many unanswered questions in this story. Who was behind the airport push? With all the attention it received, it seemed like it was going to be relevant at some point. Was there more to the fate of Leo? Again, the story seemed to be building up around something big. Was there more to Mathilde’s online dating business? That would’ve been a good lead to follow. But no, all roads lead to sex and more sex.
Further, I felt the story which seemed to be based in realism was horribly unrealistic. Lotto’s mummy…
And please, Lotto is constantly described as an innocent. REALLY? In what universe is a man who manipulates his way into the pants of a thousand young girls an innocent? How many girls did he “innocently” leave brokenhearted? If I were king, such men would be jailed. (Or castrated.)
The longer I go on, the more I wonder why I gave this novel three stars. Frankly, there was little I enjoyed about it. What else? The names were pretentious. The backstory was tiresome and often poorly placed. What I liked mostly comes down to the hope I had held for years that I was going to like Lauren Groff’s writing. I have copies of Delicate Edible Birds and Arcadia that I purchased a few years ago on my bookshelf. It probably would’ve been better to have started with one of them, but I let the hype lead me. That said, I will still give Groff another try. I know from what I just read that the writing will be over the top, but I can forgive such style if the story does not elicit frequent eye rolling.
As for Fates and Furies, I’m beginning to think three stars was too generous. Clearly, given the rave reviews, I missed something great. Obviously, my lack of understanding and appreciation for this novel is a deficit of my own tastes and reasoning. I am to blame. Truly, I hate countering the views of those whose opinions I value who loved this book. I just cannot stomach the idea of all those old people having heart attacks without having tried my best to warn them.
This framework allows Groff to be both playful and self-indulgent in her narrative. She introduces us to a group of preposterous characters who find themselves leading equally preposterous lives. She isn't exactly subtle, either, in hammering home her very meta intentions. Early on, Lotto's drama teacher instructs us on how to read this work. We read plays embedded within the larger narrative, go to operas, and attend art shows. Many of the characters' names are a nod to other characters from great works of art and myth - Lancelot being the most obvious. Her narrators regularly quote major players in the literary/art world. Art criticism and the creative process play a major role in their motives and moods. [The Greek chorus asides, though delightful, are yet another example.] And don't think those mentions of gesamtkunstwerk and ekphrasis went unnoticed.
In short, Groff makes sure we know that this is not just the story of a marriage. Instead, she uses it as a sounding board for her commentary on the creative process and the power of great art to tap into something visceral within us. Perhaps Lotto and Mathilde's marriage - charged, electric, painful, devout, ecstatic, consuming, devastating - mirrors the marriage between artist and expression, truth and beauty? It speaks to the struggle of remaining faithful to our truths while trying to contribute something meaningful to the world. Though at times overwrought, this story is, in the end, deeply moving and intimate, the pretense giving way to emotional veracity.
The husband’s perspective, captured in the section titled “Fates,” is pegged as euphorically happy, narcissistic, cozy, and complacent, all wrapped up in a heroic bleeding heart idealism. In “Furies,” we get a darker, repressed, hardened, restless point of view from the wife. When I first started reading, I kept wondering why the male perspective was always so chill and the woman’s so temperamental and bitchy. At times, the novel teetered on dissolving into its own gender tropes or steeping too long in its Greco themes: the man watched over by the Fates; the woman propelled by the Furies.
But under Groff’s writerly hand, her electric, scintillating prose, the story evolves beyond those formal mythic structures into something much more nuanced and devastating. The structure of dueling viewpoints itself isn’t new, but rather than give us the conventional first-person POV accounts from the husband and wife, Groff stays with a close third-person point of view for both lead characters. It might seem an odd choice, but it actually makes the telling of these two lives that more intimate in its seen-from-a-great-height perspective.
The couple meet in college after a party. It’s literally love at first sight, and they quickly get married, much to the ire of Lotto’s family and consternation of his friends. No two people could be less compatible. Lotto is a social butterfly, campus Adonis, man-about-town, beloved by everyone. Mathilde, on the other hand, is mysterious, no close friends, no family. She is an ice queen to everyone around her but to Lotto she is purity incarnate, a saint. Lotto’s view of his wife is adoring and loving but it is eye-rollingly paternalistic. He attributes Mathilde’s self-sacrifice (she works to support his acting career) as a testament to her good character. He subsumes her into his own egotistical worldview. See how Lotto’s curiosity about Mathilde’s past is romanticized:“The little she spoke of childhood was shadowed with abuse. He’d imagined it vividly: poverty, beat-up trailer, spiteful—she implied worse—uncle. Her most vivid memories of her childhood were of the television that was never turned off. Salvation of school, scholarship, modeling for spare change. ... How she’d been discovered for modeling by a gargoyle of a man on a train. It must have taken an immense force of will for Mathilde to turn her past, so sad and dark, blank behind her. Now she had only him.”
The couple’s life in NYC is free-spirited and la-la bohemian, even if poor. (Lotto is filthy rich but his demanding mother has been cut him off) Parties are thrown casually in their basement apartment. Even though Lotto can’t get a steady acting gig, he perseveres. One night he has a kind of personal revelation and in a reversal of fortune goes from struggling actor to budding, genius playwright. In a burst of creativity, he pens a play, “The Springs,” loosely based on his family. The next morning, Mathilde tells him he has found his true talent and has happily started editing his work. With Mathilde’s cheerleading, Lotto eventually goes on to write a series of celebrated works for the stage and emerges as a literary force of nature. Meanwhile, Mathilde watches from the sidelines and continues to support him. Soon, she quits her art gallery job, and they move to a bigger house in the country, where she heads up Lotto’s business interests with laser efficiency. Lotto’s transition into his role as playwright is accompanied by Groff’s brilliant depictions of his plays: notes of staging and even actual dialogue. We also see behind-the-scenes discussions of the productions, Lotto’s reaction to a critic. However annoying Lotto can be, it’s hard not to be drawn to the ambition of his work.
Once we get to Mathilde, the Lotto golden boy narrative quickly unspools and clouds. This is Marriage explored in stereophonic technicolor—every secret and feeling, expansive joys and small hurts laid out on the dissecting table.
Groff takes stock of what she has accumulated in the first half of the novel, all those idyllic slices of the marriage and cross-slices everything. Mathilde is our reality-check, the Fury slapping back Fate across the mouth. While Mathilde isn’t Gone Girl bitter, she puts Lotto’s ego in its place. All those plays that Lotto wrote? “[S]he would silently steal in at night and refine what he had written.” And on it goes, these stinging corrections to history.
We also see beyond the beautiful enigma of Mathilde, learning about her childhood in France and an accident with her younger brother that has her banished to live with a grandmother in Paris and later an uncle in Pennsylvania. It is an early childhood rife with emotional rejection, and we begin to see the ‘why’ of Mathilde. We also see the explanations for the series of lucky shots that Lotto seems blessed with—we learn how Mathilde was behind a lot of them, maneuvering behind the scenes. And more importantly, we see the full picture of Mathilde herself, finally moved out from under Lotto’s shadow. Groff also takes the time to fill in gaps in the narrative. Where was Mathilde when Lotto was holed up in the writer’s colony trying to pen his first opera? In Lotto’s account, he finally comes home and notices the house smells like garbage. His explanation: in her grief and rage, Mathilde let the house go. What actually happened: Mathilde left, traveling halfway around the world and even contemplated leaving him.
At the end, there are several humiliating and horrifying reveals that are direct nods to Greek tragedy. I won’t spoil it but the revelations seemed like melodramatic cruelty that didn’t need to be foisted onto Mathilde. But thematically and narratively, Groff builds up to it so it feels natural. I expected it. There were already several prominent references to classical Greek tropes and fairytales. What’s confounding, though, is what we’re expected to make of these allusions in terms of this particular marriage (or any marriage really?) Is it just a lazy attempt on Groff’s part to be overtly literary? I’m not a big fan of character secrets and emotional baggage standing in for human truths.
What did work for me, surprisingly, was the use of bracketed commentary throughout the text, a kind of authorial Greek chorus making an appearance. It might seem like another literary gimmick on Groff’s part, one that interrupts the narrative flow, but given the heavy dose of Greek tragedy and references to plays, it fit. I liked it. I particularly liked the fast-forwards where the fate of a minor character is quickly summed up. “[Her death would be soon and sudden. Ski tumble; embolism.]”
So, which is the “true account”? Mathilde, the Fury in me is saying. But perhaps neither. Likely both accounts. I love books that explore this idea of the untenability of a normative truth. Because we are introduced to “Fates” before “Furies,” I expected the form of the story to be a kind of play on the malleability of reality. And we do get that. We see the marriage start from Lotto’s point of view and then see that side tempered by Mathilde’s corrective version. Dig deeper into marital bliss, Groff is saying, and there are cracks, not just disagreements or spats but fundamentally different viewpoints, different tellings. By the end, even if Lotto and Mathilde are not the soulmates we thought they were, it is clear they did love each other. Ultimately, both stories fit together, hand in glove. In fact, one does not exist without the other. It’s no small truth and a profound one.
Strangely enough, by the end of the novel you realize that they are both right and also very wrong. Even about how they see themselves is called into question. Especially the wife. She was told one thing her whole life that may or may not be true.
In the end, it is what you do that makes you the person you are. Regardless of how you or anyone else perceives you to be.
This is a very well done novel. The writing is elaborate, and in keeping with Lotto's expansive personality. Groff really does make him a believable character, but also a fantastic, almost mythical one. People are drawn to him, and he is open and focused on them as long as they stay in his field of view. He's interested in what interests him, which leads to him hurting people, not deliberately, but with shocking carelessness.