Mini Book Review for Fates and Furies: A Novel, by Lauren Groff
When the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review referred to Lauren Groff as “a writer of rare gifts,” I purchased Fates and Furies immediately. I thought that any author in receipt of such a compliment is worth reading; boy was I right.
At first, Groff’s seemingly impenetrable prose blindsided me. I spent the first 20% of the novel fearing the whole thing would be weighted down by the bulk of its own luxuriousness, but I kept with it and what a lovely piece of fiction Fates and Furies turned out to be. Once it gets going, it really takes off.
The story spans the marriage between Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder, where a youthful whirlwind courtship spins into a colossal earth-obliterating storm cluster:
The fireworks blister-popping in the sky, the party sounds. [Doomed people celebrate peace with sky bombs.]
And there we have my absolute favorite passage from the book. A Fourth of July party. A celebration. Revelers reveling, over-quaffed, sun-tanned and smiling. The fates of The Beautiful People? All doomed.
Driven by two points of view, the narrative structure works well, without repetition or re-hashing as is the danger of dual POV. If anything, Mathilde’s second act elucidates truths that Lotto’s narrow-perspective first act fails to recognize (he is so beautifully self-absorbed).
A Great Upending is in order, and Groff delivers—from the mythological Arthurian Legend beginnings, all the way down to an oblique Oedipal turn toward the end.
And what is marriage if not myth? A personal mythology. A marriage is only what one believes it to be.
Something I love about Groff is her willingness to show off. She is a gifted writer and she knows it. She writes with total confidence. She is abrupt, fierce. Her words are short but electric:
The dark whip at the center of her. How, so gently, she flicked it and kept him spinning.
Hurricanes of entitlement, all swirl and noise and destruction, nothing at their centers.
While Fates and Furies contains the comprehensive arc of Lotto’s life in a loose Hero Journey, the bigger picture is how a life shaped by strategic omissions can transform one’s self-perspective, one’s beliefs about others, and one’s own marriage mythology:
Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.
This novel was a page-turner for me once it passed the 20% mark. I read it twice in two weeks. Even the supporting characters (particularly Chollie, Leo, and Roland) have purpose and depth.
Fates and Furies is dangerous and clever in its complexities; dazzling yet practical in its delivery. I can’t wait to see what profound thing Groff does next. I’m expecting a masterpiece.