Book review: ‘Fates and Furies,’ by Lauren Groff
Special to the Daily
National Book Award finalist “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff, barely needs an introduction, as the book has been on best-seller lists for months. Though it is an engaging novel about the complexities of a marriage, with the inevitable challenges that are inherent in that institution, “Fates and Furies” incorporates plenty more, being a multi-layered examination of relationships and personalities, in general, and it provides a look at how those dynamics morph over time.
When two individuals connect in marriage, they bring to their union unique histories and life experiences, some of which can sit within the relationship like malevolent gargoyles looming just on the edge of the senses. Even through all the intensity of the first passionate blushes of a romance, people always hold back a bit of themselves, a core persona that is kept protected and private. On occasion, though, that hidden self can mutate into a hindrance for the relationship’s success going forward.
“Between his skin and hers, there was the smallest of spaces, barely enough for air, for this slick of sweat now chilling. Even still, a third person, their marriage, had slid in.” This is how we meet Lotto and Mathilde, young newlyweds who are setting on their course of mutual discovery — about each other, about themselves and about the secrets that will wind around them as they build their lives together.
The appeal of Groff’s narrative is its slow-burn reveal of the intricacies that surrounds Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship. Lotto’s personal story is constructed first, and for most of the book, his perspective dominates the narrative and Mathilde’s seems almost secondary, as though she were merely a supporting character. Of course, things are not always as they seem, and the best stories have unexpected twists.
At times, Groff’s book reads like a teen romance, with stylized and immature dialogue, as well as implausible theatrics. An unrealistic amount of over-the-top drama occurs, which lends the narrative a cinematic, coming-of-age feel, like the angst-ridden movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” but the drama is so sickly sweet that it leaves a saccharine aftertaste. Both Lotto and Mathilde feel like caricatures of types of people who fit well in the unrealistic landscape of cinema but whose characters seem overwrought for the real world.
But if one looks beyond the melodramatic scenarios of their lives, both before and after they meet, then the meat of the story begins to emerge, but slowly, for the author is careful to keep a sense of mystery around the secrets that are perpetuated throughout the narrative.
Despite the dramatic portrayal of the two main characters, some elements of their life together may resonate with readers, at least regarding some of the fundamentals of marriage in its early stages. The idea of maintaining an individual identity while also committing to another person in a profound way is a universal one, and Groff handles that abstract concept well, weaving it into the very convoluted framework of the novel. The lamentation begins when there comes the inevitable discovery that a life together can often define the essence of who someone is as an individual.
All in all, “Fates and Furies” has some fascinating elements and will serve as an easy read for the summer, perfect for a beach or a plane ride, but there should be no expectations that it is a book with deeper metaphorical layers or more profound meanings hidden beneath.