STARRED REVIEW
September 2015

The mythology of a marriage

Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff explored the strengths of community in her first two novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In Fates and Furies, she narrows her focus to the ultimate microcosm: a marriage. Told in two parts, first by a husband and then a wife, this unsettling novel looks at the myriad ways even the most devoted of couples keep secrets, betray one another and risk deceiving themselves.
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Lauren Groff explored the strengths of community in her first two novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In Fates and Furies, she narrows her focus to the ultimate microcosm: a marriage. Told in two parts, first by a husband and then a wife, this unsettling novel looks at the myriad ways even the most devoted of couples keep secrets, betray one another and risk deceiving themselves. 

 Despite the allusions to epic myth and Greek tragedy, Fates and Furies opens like a fairy tale: with a marriage between a prince and princess. Handsome, charismatic Lancelot, known as Lotto, meets the palely beautiful Mathilde in college, and after a brief courtship, they marry. “Fates”—the first half of the novel—tells the story of Lotto’s affluent upbringing in Florida, his failed acting career and years of genteel poverty with Mathilde in their Village apartment. Estranged from his mother and drinking heavily, Lotto finds unexpected success as a playwright. The second half of the novel, aptly named “Furies,” tells Matilde’s considerably grimmer side of the story. From Mathilde’s perspective, Lotto is lazy and self-absorbed, the selfish son of an indulgent yet withholding mother. For Mathilde, family life means keeping Lotto content—but at the cost of holding on to some very closely guarded secrets of her own. What begins as the story of their union unravels into something else altogether. 

In a novel whose title invokes the grand sweep of an epic, there shouldn’t be any surprise when the domestic tale leaps into mythic territory: bouts of hubris, betrayal and thwarted power that spring from the pages of classical tragedies. At times, Groff’s characters, with their selfishness, lust and need for revenge, are more archetypal than living, breathing people. But Mathilde’s rage is as artful as it is destructive, and at its deepest, Fates and Furies suggests that her vengeance is a creative force as carefully wrought as any of Lotto’s dramas. 

 Fates and Furies is an ambitious and sometimes difficult novel about two charismatic people who, thrust out of the comforting nests of their birth families, seek security and solace in one another. Groff’s writing is intelligent, knowing and deliciously sexy. When Groff’s red-hot prose ignites Mathilde’s icy rage, Fates and Furies is something very special indeed.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies

By Lauren Groff
Riverhead
ISBN 9781594634475

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