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Fates and Furies


Fates and Furies

Lauren Groff’s lyrical new novel opens with the elopement of Lancelot Satterwhite (known as Lotto) and his beautiful bride, Mathilde, right on the heels of their college graduation, much to the chagrin of their friends and family. Lotto’s mother cuts him off outright, refusing to acknowledge the union and also refusing to send him any more of their family’s dwindling fortune. Mathilde, a beautiful but aloof amazon of a woman, has no real family to disapprove. Their friends start taking bets on when they’ll be divorced. Despite this inauspicious start, they begin their married life together, the two of them against the world.

Lotto and Mathilde have every right to be optimistic about their future. They appear to be the perfect couple. Lotto hails from a formerly wealthy family in Florida, whose wealth was fading fast. He had weathered a turbulent early life, from being born quite literally during a hurricane, to having his father die at an early age from an aneurysm, leaving his once glorious mother a mere shadow of herself. He had to care for himself and his younger sister, Rachel, with the help of the ever-loyal Aunt Sallie. But after his typical teenage behavior proved too much for his delicate mother to bear, he was shipped off to boarding school and then on to Vassar. Mathilde was a much-admired but little-known entity on campus. She was never really close to anyone, but all who came upon her were struck by her beauty.

"Groff takes on what could be a rather predictable story and adds so many delicate but edifying layers and renders unto readers a remarkable tapestry of 'rich and royal hues,' to quote songwriter Carole King."

It’s no wonder that the two gravitated to each other: “After being so long a nomad, he was rooted in this place, rooted in this wife, with her fine features and sad, cattish eyes and freckles and gangly tall body with its tang of the forbidden…. All was beauty, all abundance…. He had a sun blazing in him. This splendid everything....” They had every reason to be optimistic.

After leaving college, the newlyweds set up housekeeping in a little basement apartment in the West Village of Manhattan and entertain friends whenever they can. Lotto, an aspiring actor at school, is trying to carve a career as a performer and finds it uninspiring and difficult. Mathilde works in an art gallery to cover the bills. But it’s only when Lotto tries his hand at writing that a true artistic path is forged --- largely subsidized and supported by Mathilde. He makes the switch from actor to playwright and soon finds the artistic (and financial) success he’s hungered for. And we see how his success, and life itself, affects their relationship through the years.

It’s been a trend in fiction to chart the course of one marriage or partnership over the years, like many of Anne Tyler’s novels, the heartbreaking works of Richard Yates (such as REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and EASTER PARADE), and more recently, novels like WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas. To see if a couple can weather the storm, from hopeful beginning through trials and tribulations; to see if they come out the other end strong and bonded, or fractured and frayed, has always been a popular and voyeuristic trope of literature.

However, FATES AND FURIES adds something much more to the genre. Groff’s style is certainly more poetic and sumptuous, to be sure, but it’s also how she highlights the story she’s telling. We see the relationship unfold through the many parties they throw at their humble apartment and, later, their well-appointed house in the country. We see them through the plays that Lotto writes, and through the opinions of their friends and family, who chime in with their color commentary. We see them through the golden, buoyant years, as well as the dark, desolate times. Groff takes on what could be a rather predictable story and adds so many delicate but edifying layers and renders unto readers a remarkable tapestry of “rich and royal hues,” to quote songwriter Carole King.

FATES AND FURIES is hard to put down and impossible to forget.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on September 17, 2015

Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff

  • Publication Date: September 13, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594634483
  • ISBN-13: 9781594634482