“Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely;
you do know someone entirely.”
Trust Green Apple, a local bookstore which has been my go-to for a decade now, to hand you the next best read just when you needed it. Right there on the corner of a long table of bargain books was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Amazon | Indiebound) at $7.95. Of course I had to get it.
And what a wonderful decision it was to walk away from the bookstore, holding between my calloused brown fingers a world I was about to submerge in, the world of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder.
I usually balk, roll my eyes, make a face at the mention (even hint) of “chick lit.” Aka beach reads. Aka “light lit” that to this day, I’m still challenging exactly what it comprises of. To be fair though, someone gifted me with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (Amazon | Indiebound) after I’ve repeatedly ignored it or walked past it on shelves and ended up loving it. Absolutely loving it, no matter how problematic it was.
But this was no chick lit as I had originally assumed. I was also slightly comforted by the “National Book Award Finalist” sticker on the cover because I have so much trust in Lisa Lucas. Fortune Smiles (Amazon | Indiebound) by Adam Johnson won that year.
A unity, marriage, made of discrete parts. Lotto was loud and full of light; Mathilde, quiet, watchful.
Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage, told from both their viewpoints. Fates is Lotto’s side while Furies is Mathilde’s. The novel begins with quite possibly the most tender scenes I’ve ever read, just a few moments right after the couple gets married and each is lost in his or her own thoughts. On the beach, the ocean all to themselves. And then it pans out to Lotto’s childhood — from how his parents met, his youth and the eventual death of his gentle giant of a father, Gawain.
After his father’s untimely death, Lotto plunges within himself straight into a dark, deep well. This is where I first started to root for him and his happiness.
He began to live for the sand, the beer, the drugs; he stole his mother’s painkillers to share. His sorrow for losing father went vague during the day, though at night he still woke weeping.
It was through his friends, particularly Chollie (who reminded him of his father) and through Mathilde that he was able to feel at home, with himself again.
Throughout the first part of the book, it’s easy to be enamored of Lotto just like how every girl in their world seemed to be. From his days in college to his newfound fame as a playwright later on, his was a character that enchanted and captivated you. I don’t know if it’s his profound loneliness that made you want to empathize with him, but even at his lowest he was lovable.
His father’s death had been so sudden, forty-six, too young; and all Lotto wanted was to close his eyes and find his father there, to put his head on his father’s chest and smell him and hear the warm thumpings of his heart. Was that so much to ask?
I had his version of their marriage so weighty in my mind, that I believed it was the ultimate story of Lotto and Mathilde. Until I read Furies, her version.
Lotto always thought of his wife as the sensible one, the predictable one, even causing him to slight her role as his wife in front of a whole crowd.
Lotto couldn’t forget his wife, but she existed on a constant, unchanging plane, her rhythms in his bones. At all moments, he could predict where she was. [Now, whipping eggs for an omelet; now, hiking over the crispy fields to the pond for an illicit smoke as she always did in her angry moments.]
I won’t be giving too many details because I think Mathilde’s story is what pulled me even closer, as if I was reading an entirely different book. My emotional and physical response to her childhood — so different from Lotto’s — were viscerally challenging. I had to rub my chest with the palm of my hand at one point, because I couldn’t fathom the reality that Groff created for her.
Knowing Mathilde’s perspective, her grief, her fire is to put it mildly, life-changing. It shattered every single belief I had about relationships and marriage.
Fates and Furies is almost the anti-thesis to Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love, a fictional book about a couple that Botton cleverly wrote about and examined. In de Botton’s book, each fight, each emotion is investigated (and almost always led back to the character’s childhood) with the generous intention of being understood. I learned that communication with each other, but also with ourselves is critical in relationships.
But Groff turned all of that around.
Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.
Fates and Furies is the best book I’ve read this year by far. It’s only June. I have so much respect for Groff and her literary prowess, for the way she told the story of the couple, that I hope to emulate someday.
There were many gaps in the books that I always had questions about and she would fill those in in the most opportune times, when you least expect her to. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of her books.
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All artwork is made by Anthony Russo.
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.