Love isn't always patient or kind, but it is almost always complicated—littered with the fears, frustrations, and self-consciousness a person builds up over a lifetime and then tries to share with another human. In her third novel, Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff displays the love between a couple starting from their hasty marriage right after college and following their relationship all the way through to its end.
Fates and Furies is a novel unafraid to contemplate, evaluate, and judge love. Through the actions of the two main characters and the secrets they hide, Groff creates a compelling, mesmerizing narrative that's difficult to put down.
Here are 7 reasons why Fates and Furies is worth your time:
Plotting a book in two halves is hardly revolutionary, but it's really easy to do poorly. Dozens of authors have written novels which start in one perspective only to flip halfway through to another, but most of those books feel repetitive in their second act and never reach a satisfying conclusion. Fates and Furies never has that problem.
The first half of the book, "Fates," is about the narcissistic beautifully tall husband, Lancelot "Lotto" Saterwhite. And then comes "Furies," which gives his wife, Mathilde Yoder, a chance to flip everything in his section on its head.
Lotto's narrow perspective (and his own obsession with himself) gives "Fates" a lens that doesn't always capture the full picture. By holding Mathilde's perspective until the end, Groff is able to add depth to the book's first half while giving the character a story that explains everything she's ever done.
It's clear from Lauren Groff's first two novels—Arcadia and The Monsters of Templeton—that she possesses a solid mastery over using a strong narrative voice to tell her stories. In Fates and Furies, the voice of the book is written in limited-perspective third person. Instead of giving the reader the story exactly through the lens of each character, Groff allows a speaker to interject.
When we are introduced to Lotto at the very beginning of the book, the narrator tells us, “For now, he’s the one we can’t look away from. He is the shining one.” But Groff also uses her narrator to inject skepticism and commentary into the biased story each character is telling. Midway through "Fates," Groff gives the narrator a comment set within brackets that fact checks Lotto's musing, "The sound of flesh slapped. Buttocks? Lotto thought. [Thigh.]"
By offsetting the narrator's voice from the characters with bracket punctuation, the narrator can expand the story in ways the characters themselves can't. (Groff hinted in the Atlantic that this device might be inspired by Virginia Woolf's novel To The Lighthouse.) In the same section, she writes, "The fireworks blister-popping in the sky, the party sounds. [Doomed people celebrate peace with sky bombs.] It's a comment Lotto himself wouldn't make, but one Groff wants in the story.
Books about love often meander. Getting lost in the weeds of a first kiss or a first fight is easy to do when a book centers around two people deeply involved with each other. But Groff never lets the relationship between Lotto and Mathilde devolve in that way. Instead, this is a book of secrets and intrigue—an evaluation of the pieces of ourselves we hold back even with those we love the most. And that's what makes it such an engaging read.
Both Lotto and Mathilde are deeply, irrevocably flawed. They keep decades-old secrets from one another. Lotto is obsessed with himself and ignores what Mathilde needs to further his own ambitions. Mathilde hides the entirety of her past before Lotto, as well as some of her present circumstances. And yet, their love is believable. Their marriage, though not perfect, and often strewn with the wreckage of past problems, feels real.
Even the secondary characters have backstories and reasons for the way they behave. The community of family and friends that Groff creates is one with power nestled inside just how messed up everyone is.
Because marriage is a complicated affair, novels about marriage often struggle to balance commentary on characters with a larger declaration about the institution. General, global commentary can lead a brilliant and really entertaining novel straight into a theoretical hell that bores readers and distances them from the action of the story. Lauren Groff, brilliantly, never falls into this trap.
Instead of trying to make big proclamations, Groff is set on making smaller, more nuanced ones about her very specific couple. In a section near the end of part one, Groff writes from Lotto's perspective:
For twenty-three years, he'd thought he'd met a girl who was pure as snow, a sad, lonely girl. He had save her. Two weeks later, they were married. But like a squid from the deep, the story had turned itself inside out.
This gorgeous imagery packs within it the heartbreak and the commitment or marriage that Groff is so curious to analyze.
This book masters the art of the single line. Not only is Fates and Furies structured well on a macro level, it is also beautifully told on a micro one. Groff is a writer with a deep understanding of the history of literature and the placement of her book within it.
From the title of the book (a reference to Greek mythology) to the casually tossed in references, Groff is careful to make sure that all of the allusions she uses can be understood and add value even to readers who may not know their exact meaning. For example, she writes:
Oh, his poor mother. Like something out of Beckett. A woman growing like a goldfish to the size of her bowl, the only escape the final leap.
Samuel Beckett, one of the first post-modernists, was known for his tragic black comedy and his focus on the destitution of humanity. One doesn't need to know that, though, because Groff gives an example immediately after she uses it. It's not repetitive; it's accessible.
Part of the fun of reading novels is the opportunity to discuss them with other readers. Fates and Furies is currently sitting at number 8 on the New York Times' bestseller list for hardcover fiction, and it has been longlisted for the National Book Award. NPR's Morning Edition named added it to their book club. Not only is Fates and Furies a great read, it will probably only rise in popularity. Already, hundreds of fans are chatting about it; join them on Tumblr, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.