Thursday, January 07, 2016

Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies is not a book that I really planned to read - then I listened to Lauren Groff discuss it at the 2015 Texas Book Festival and found myself buying a copy even before leaving the festival.  I could see that the author was doing her best not to "spoil" the book for prospective readers by revealing too many details, but at the same time she was hinting that there was much more to the book than its basic storyline.  That is an understatement.

Fates and Furies is about marriage, marriage in all its glory and in all its despair, marriage as a lifetime commitment and marriage as a sexual fling.  Marriage is, of course, all of those things, but not at the same time.  And it is exactly that complicated, ever evolving nature of society's most sacred institution that Groff explores here with such powerful impact.

As its title implies, the novel is divided into two distinct sections, "Fates" and "Furies," but the intent of this split only becomes obvious when the reader begins the second section of the book.  But identifying this reason in a review, unfortunately, even though it is hinted at in the book's own dust jacket, is where it is too easy to drift into "spoiler" territory.  I will only add that it would be a big mistake for anyone to give up on Fates and Furies before beginning the "Fates" section because, prospective reader, this is not the book you think it is up to that point.

Author Lauren Groff
The book's two main characters, Lotto and Mathilde, meet as university seniors on the verge of graduation.  From the start, it seems that their fates have always been to find each other despite how different they are.  Lotto is a campus star, a tall young man as well known for his appearances in university plays as for his stellar four-year track record of bedding the school's female students.  Mathilde is almost his campus opposite.  Even though her height and striking beauty make her hard to forget, she seldom speaks and does not appear to have a friend in the world, much less one on campus.  But when they finally find each other, sparks fly and they want desperately to spend the rest of their lives together.  Groff has so well developed the characters of Lotto and Mathilde that they become very real to the reader, but instead of revealing everything about them at once, the author allows her readers to get to know the two characters (and several of the book's supporting characters) layer by revealed layer, much as we get to know people in the everyday world. That is why the book's second section becomes such a jarring, powerful thing to read.

Lauren Groff's books are not easy reads.  Her prose can be densely packed at times, and keeping up with her sometimes requires a bit of extra concentration.  But it is all worth the effort because Groff never fails to deliver - and that includes the fictional play excerpts that become a big part of the novel in its second section.  Fates and Furies is destined for good things.  Don't miss it - or give up on it too soon.


  1. I just got an email from the library that the book is waiting for me to pick up. Looking forward to it!

    1. I'll look forward to seeing what you think of it. When forced to give it a numerical rating, I go with 4 of 5 stars.