Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Fates and Furies," by Lauren Groff

Fierce! That is the word I thought of when reading, and especially when finishing, Lauren Groff’s novel about a marriage, “Fates and Furies” (Riverhead, 2015). Even the title sounds fierce, doesn’t it? And of course mythic. The marriage is that of Lotto, a renowned playwright, and Mathilde, who both supports him and needs her own identity. They have an extraordinary, and extraordinarily intense, connection. The first half of the novel, “Fates,” describes the beginnings of their love affair and then their marriage and life together, mostly from the point of view of Lotto. The second half, “Furies,” focuses on Mathilde’s experiences and perceptions. Lotto tends to have a positive if somewhat fatalistic view of life, and is happy to benefit from Mathilde’s fierce contending with life on his behalf. Mathilde herself, we find out in the second section, has her own “furies” against the unfairness of life, and against, at times, Lotto’s serene acceptance of fate and his taking for granted of her (Mathilde’s) constant fighting and advocacy for him and his career. Mathilde, in other words, is not always or completely the loving and supportive wife (artistic version) that she appears. Is this good or bad? This is actually an irrelevant question; the description is exactly that: description. Neither character is clearly right or wrong, good or bad, but this novel looks way beyond such categories. Of course feminist readers, myself included, will interpret the story of this marriage, and in particular of Mathilde’s blend of love, work, and fury, through a feminist lens. One thing that slightly bothered me was the assumption, and frequent reiteration, that these two characters are unique, special, extraordinary; readers are supposed to take this on faith. However, this novel is certainly compelling, although sometimes uncomfortable and even unsettling, with its aspects of love, passion, art, success, failure, competition, secrets, betrayal, and more. The portrayal of the world of art and literature is part of the draw of this novel. Most important, perhaps: The writing is powerful, and at times surprising, which is a wonderful quality in fiction.
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