Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: FATES AND FURIES, by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Published 2015 by Riverhead Books. Literary Fiction.

Fates and Furies, the latest book from celebrated author Lauren Groff, has been all the rage since its release last fall. It's been likened to Gone Girl with its his-and-hers story of the marriage Lotto, a wealthy bottled-water scion, and Mathilde, a young woman of murky background. They meet at Vassar and go on to live a charmed life, first in genteel West-Village poverty and later as Lotto becomes a lauded playwright and Mathilde his loyal and devoted helpmeet.

Or that's the story you could glean from the first half of the story, told from Lotto's perspective. And even in that first half the reader can see how self-centered he is and how many things might look different from Mathilde's point of view. In the second half some of those gaps get filled in.

I have a lot of thoughts about Fates and Furies. I would join a book club just to talk about it, because I feel like I need to talk about it with someone. There were things I loved about the book, like Groff's insight into Mathilde's character, the writing itself, so descriptive and lush, and the skill with which she both draws and skewers Lotto, a decent if myopic man. But I had some problems with it too, mostly to do with the amount of melodrama larded over situations that don't need it. I think there is a trend in the literary world right now towards overwrought emotional and sexual melodramas (hello A Little Life) and if you loved Hanya Yanagihara's blockbuster you will probably like this one too (although I admit I haven't read Yanagihara's book and probably won't, the talk about it is roughly similar to what Fates has to offer).

I was a big fan of Groff's last book, Arcadia, which also centered around a young woman shaped by abuse; I thought that book was excellent and very insightful, and I admire Fates but I think too often she just went to far in investing her characters with uber-angst. Mathilde's childhood as Groff shapes it is the stuff of nightmares; it's hard to believe she would walk away from that. I think a young woman who's been neglected the way she is, and who has had the lack of parenting she's had, would be drawn to bad relationships and have the attitude towards childrearing she does, but it's all so overwrought. And that's assuming she just physically survived it, which I don't think is a given. I don't know what to say without big spoilers- this is why I need people who've read it.

And the comparisons to Gone Girl are off the mark too. Mathilde isn't evil or a schemer or a murderer, and if anything the revelations about her role in the marriage seem overcooked. Her emotional detachment is both extreme and uneven; Groff tells us Mathilde loves Lotto, is devoted to him, but she lies to him in shocking ways, driven by more than just fear of not being loved for who she is. Again I don't buy that this person would be able to do what she does, given what she's been through. I think toning down or reshaping the melodrama of her childhood and early adulthood would have helped to make her more  believable overall.  I don't know that I'd recommend it to Gone Girl fans just based on the two-sides-of-a-marriage premise. I think that Fates might be a little overwritten for die-hard crime fans too and there is no real element of horror here, telenovela-worthy sexual melodrama aside.

So yeah, ambivalence from me. I get why people like it; I get why they don't. Just before I finished the book I glanced through GoodReads reviews to see what folks were saying, if it fit with how I was feeling about the book and I found that I agreed more or less with the good reviews and the bad. Should you read it? I have no idea. I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity about it though.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Interesting! I haven't heard any comparisons to Gone Girl, which I didn't read, but which surprises me greatly.

I wanted to love this book but didn't. Like you, I've long admired Groff's writing, but this book wasn't quite what I was hoping it would be.

Marce said...

I had added this to my TBR list and over a month of reading, listening I decided this one won't be for me. I am glad I didn't see the Gone Girl comparison, that would have been a turn off, I was not a fan and thriller is my true genre of choice.

Mystica said...

You've got me interested not with your review but your views on the book!