Fates and Furies

fatesandfuriesI didn’t expect much from this book. I wasn’t a fan of Groff’s first book, The Monsters of Templeton, and there was nothing much in this book’s premise—rich white New Yorkers with marriage problems—that appealed to me enough to make me set aside my dislike of her first book and try this one. That’s until it rose from the dead to rejoin the Tournament of Books last week, making it the only book to compete after the semi-finals that I hadn’t read. Plus, the conversation on the TOB site made me think it was worth at least trying.

It was clear to me early on that we’re not meant to take the initial account of the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite entirely seriously. The first chapter is too over the top to be real—or, if it’s real, too over the top to sustain. And then there are the parenthetical comments, making notes that show the narrative is constructed and not necessarily a full and complete account. Plus, there’s the story of Lotto’s birth, “in the calm eye of a hurricane” to a mermaid (performer) named Antoinette and a father named Gawain. The baby’s full name: Lancelot. His aunt Sallie dubbed him Lotto so he wouldn’t get beat up.

And although Lotto is surrounded by tragedy, he’s continually shielded from it. When things get complicated at home, his mother sweeps him away. He’s just awkward enough not to be hated, and his skin problems don’t lead to girl (or boy) problems. Even incidents that could scar Lotto permanently seen to wash right over him. When he meets Mathilde, the sparks are instantaneous and the marriage swift, passionate, and always faithful. With Mathilde’s support, Lotto builds a successful career. The bumps along the way don’t last, until Lotto encounters a challenge that he can’t simply wash away without thinking of it again.

The book is structured in a way that I thought was evident from the start, when we’re told, of Lotto and Mathilde, “For now, he’s the one we can’t look away from.” Most promotional copy and reviews have referred to it as something we’re supposed to know. But some have referred to it having a twist that has do to with its structure. I’m going to discuss that in some detail now, so if you’re leery of spoilers, you may not want to read on. But I truly don’t think this development is meant to be a surprise twist.

The first half of the book, “Fates,” focuses on Lotto as he makes his clumsy but amiable way through the world. In the second half, “Furies,” attention turns to Mathilde, and we see just how oblivious Lotto was. Although Mathilde was steadfast in her love and support for Lotto, she had secrets that Lotto never even bothered to wonder about. In Lotto’s version of the story, it’s easy to read Mathilde as the sometimes overlooked woman behind her man, and Mathilde’s account doesn’t contradict that. But Lotto, with his rose-colored glasses, never saw Mathilde’s true nature.

I think it would be easy, reading the Mathilde-centered section, to write her off as a Fury, wreaking violence and vengeance wherever she goes, looking out only for herself and doing whatever she must. It’s certainly true that she’s a calculating person, but it’s not clear how much her early reputation for evil is just rumor that got repeated so much that it became reality. Plus, Mathilde is remarkably ill-equipped to be her own person. She learns to give, but only because that’s how she can receive.

Still, it’s hard to just dismiss her as selfish, supporting Lotto for what she can get out of it. It does seem that there is love in their relationship. It’s not a healthy love, not a marriage to aspire to. Lotto and Mathilde never escape their own selfishness. Lotto because it doesn’t occur to him to try, and Mathilde because she knows no other way to be. They love each other in the way that they can love. It’s not a good way, but does that keep it from being love?

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12 Responses to Fates and Furies

  1. Denise says:

    Would you recommend this as a read? I’ve heard mixed things about it.

    • Teresa says:

      I liked it, but I know a lot of people hated it. If it sounds like the kind of thing you like, it’s worth trying. The tricky thing is that the really interesting stuff doesn’t happen until the second half, so if the first half doesn’t work for you, it can be a problem.

  2. lailaarch says:

    “They love each other in the way they can love.” Great observation! I loved this book. Well, I loved the second half of this book. I liked the first half. Groff’s beautiful writing carried me into the second half. I feel like this book is one I have a hard time categorizing. I went with 4 stars on Goodreads, but I could have gone with either 3 or 5. But I still think about Mathilde, which I guess means that this is a book that will stick with me.

    • Teresa says:

      I know what you mean about not knowing how to rate it. There are several loose ends and I didn’t always love the writing, but the good stuff is so interesting. The relationship leaves a lot to chew on, and I like that about it.

  3. Deb says:

    (Possible spoiler–so read with caution)

    I went into this book with some trepidation because several reviews had likened it to GONE GIRL which, in my estimation, would not be a plus. However, it’s much more finely-textured and nuanced than GG, although I did think F&F was overwritten in parts (especially when we read Lotto’s plays–are we supposed to think they’re good?). I did think the “twists” were much better than GG’s because we’ve already been primed to know we’re going to see the same events from a different perspective in the second half of the book.

    But I think my biggest takeaway is that F&F is in many ways a testament to rich, white, male privilege. It’s even mentioned a few times: the idea that rich, white men internalize their privilege and entitlement and expect everyone to indulge them (and, of course, they do).

    • Teresa says:

      I loved Gone Girl and found enough complexity there, but I agree that this is a very different book. I think this requires a lot more reading between the lines, and the characters are awful in a different way. I actually liked the play descriptions, but that was the theatre geek in me who’s seen lots of plays with premises that sounded silly on paper and sometimes turned out great. And YES on the male privilege angle. Lotto is such a good example of how it works. Everything just washes over him, not really touching him, and then when he sees someone had a whole other life apart from him, he can’t deal.

  4. And here I thought I’d get a firm up-or-down verdict from you, read it or don’t. Instead you are writing so thoughtfully about the book and not reducing it to a yes/no question. Can I ask if you think I’d like it? I’ve been going SUPER back and forth about whether I want to read it, and you know my reading tastes reasonably well.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s not a book I wanted to recommend outright because opinions have been so varied. But if you can get through the first half, I think you’ll enjoy how the second half subverts it. And FWIW, I found enough little subversions within the first half that I wasn’t bothered by Lotto’s ridiculous privilege, but I know others really struggled with the first part.

  5. Stefanie says:

    Loved your review! I really liked the book and I didn’t hate Mathilde, I kind of liked her for doing the best she could given her circumstances. I found Lotto’s almost willful obliviousness frustrating but it was part of who he was. “They love each other in the way that they can love” is a good summation and about as good as any of us can do really.

    • Teresa says:

      I liked Mathilde too. She had so few options and knew so little about genuine human relationships, and I think her love for Lotto was sincere, as his was for her. They were just neither of them able to love in a way that most of us would consider healthy.

  6. This was one of my favorites from last year. I’ve not read Templeton yet, but I also loved Arcadia which has a similar “plot twist” halfway through. That’s a major reason why I enjoyed both, how the second half of each undermined what the reader thought in the first half. I was taken by surprise both times. I’m a sucker that way.

    This one subverted that traditional story-line of the wealthy man who supports his wife’s career in the arts, think Citizen Kane, Pia Zadora, and the upcoming movie about that really bad singer whose name I forget. (The previews look like fun, by the way.) We’ve had that so many times, it’s interesting to see how it works out here.

    And I thought it was just a great book overall.

    • Teresa says:

      I hadn’t thought about that Citizen Kane, etc., comparison! I was thinking more about how it subverts so many “great man” narratives, where there’s likely a woman working in the background to make it all happen but remaining invisible.

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