For months now, critics have universally fawned over Lauren Groff and her latest novel, Fates and Furies, and, given that I pre-ordered the book prior to official release, I’m not sure what took me so long to crack it open. Perhaps it is because the thick blue volume was the aesthetic stronghold of the ‘blue’ section of my color-coded shelf. Alternatively, it could very well have been because, despite hearing the book described as “portrait of a marriage told in two parts,” I knew nothing of the actual plot. Having read it [in one day, no less—it is that good], I now understand how difficult it is to summarize.
The book is a portrait of a marriage told in two parts. But it’s also much more. The book is as complex as can be without verging into clunky territory; given the number of plot twists, it flows shockingly smoothly. It is divided into two parts: Fates and Furies—the title being the simplest allusion in a book replete with references to mythology. Fates is told from the third-person perspective of the husband, Lancelot ‘Lotto’ Satterwhite. Lotto’s life a mess at the outset: born in rural Florida, banished to New England Prep School after a drug-fueled incident, where he is teased mercilessly until the Dean politely tells him that, at six foot six, he is far too tall to be teased. Lotto throws a punch at the next boy who mocks him and, suddenly: Mr. Popular [and so high school goes]. He matriculates to Vassar, where he stars in plays and captures the attention of the entire student body—and their bodies catch his, ultimately earning him a reputation for taking home every girl [even allowing some XYs to slip into the mix] he meets, until he encounters Mathilde at a party a few weeks prior to their graduation. Lotto falls instantly in love, a reciprocal move, shocking given Mathilde’s reputation for being remaining aloof in the face of male attention. The two are married within two weeks, and thus begins their life in New York City.
Lotto ultimately fails at his acting career and makes his first foray into playwriting—and is met with enough critical acclaim to become a Broadway darling. His portion of the story follows his career, a trajectory surprisingly fascinating no matter your level of interest in theatre [mine is pretty low]. There were certain parts I did not care for—I didn’t need five pages dedicated to the script of his play based on Antigone, a myth I’ve never read and, thus, a story I found incredibly hard to follow. On the whole, Lotto’s segment was interesting, easy to breeze through. He’s a fascinating character—goodhearted and loving, while equally egotistical and arrogant. Fates, though, was simply a warm-up for Furies.
I hated Mathilde throughout the book, and when I read her section, I became conflicted as to whether it made me hate her more or feel remorse towards her. Mathilde is a steady, supporting character throughout the Fates section of the book. She is a smiling, background presence, a quiet foil to Lotto’s fiery, passionate character. The first half fools the reader into thinking Mathilde’s role in the novel is simply to serve as a foil for her charismatic husband. Within the first few pages of the second half, Groff shatters any such perceptions. I don’t want to reveal any of the details that come out of the woodwork in Furies as they aren’t necessary for understanding the plot. However, I will say that if you struggle with Fates, do yourself a favor and push through to the second half. Fates on its own is a powerful portrait of wealth, family, and marriage, but Furies elevates Groff’s work from novel to tour de force.
Also, it was Obama’s favorite book this year. Who doesn’t want to join Barry O’s Book Club?