Book review: ‘Fates and Furies’ astounding classical epic
“Fates and Furies”
by Lauren Groff
This book was an NPR Book Club pick chosen by renowned author and screenwriter Richard Russo. He positively raved about this book and with good reason.
Lauren Groff’s third novel, “Fates and Furies,” is an astounding epic in the classical sense of the word: a Greek tragedy told in sweeping language that moves the reader forward at a breakneck pace, showing how even in the most intimate of personal relationships, people rarely know one another as well as they believe they do.
Groff tells the story — or rather, stories — of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder, both touched by childhood tragedies that have far-reaching impacts on their lives, most poignantly for Mathilde. We meet them hurriedly, as the newlywed couple shares a passionate encounter on a beach. Foreshadowing suggests things are not as they seem before the narrative launches into Lotto’s tale. Lotto is a shining boy full of promise, who has a mesmerizing effect on everyone around him, even after he fails as an actor and flounders as a husband.
They meet in a scene that could have come from a Hollywood movie, with him proposing marriage on the spot and her answering. This answer begins the dual tracks of their marriage.
Lotto views his wife as a near-perfect, loyal companion. We soon realize, however, Lotto is an unreliable narrator, thanks to parenthetical references to his bisexuality and the limited insights of his internal monologue.
We get little-to-no view into what makes Mathilde tick and her innermost thoughts until the novel’s second act. As much as Lotto is a golden boy, unbeknownst to him, his wife — and the other women in his life — are very much the Fates and Furies of Greek mythology: female deities who influence mortals’ lives and female spirits driven by justice and vengeance. Groff nicely builds anticipation of the inevitable reveal into Mathilde’s darkest truths, with a pivotal incident at the novel’s halfway point.
Without revealing too much of the plot, it is safe to say very little in “Fates and Furies” is as it seems, and nearly every character is more complex than Lotto believes. There is even a twist near the end, which does not so much tie up loose ends as it brings things into shocking focus.
The one thing that is unequivocally true in both halves of the story is that Lotto and Mathilde love each other deeply. The tragedy lies in the truths that remain untold, which might have created a happier ending for Mathilde and a more thorough understanding by her husband.
“Fates and Furies” is a must-read, a novel whose intricate, thrilling details demand readers return and re-read again and again.
Kim Brack is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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