‘Fates and Furies’ by Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies has hit the book world like a storm. It’s not Lauren Groff’s first novel, nor even her first critically acclaimed one, but it seems to be the one destined to put her on the map of great contemporary writers.
The conceit is this: Lotto, a young bottled water heir, is wasted at a party two weeks before his college graduation and proposes to Mathilde, a woman whom he has just met. They get married, and somehow, against all odds, manage to stay married. It’s difficult to explain more without spoilers, but they live a fairly ordinary life until Lotto becomes wildly successful.
The first half of the novel is told from Lotto’s point of view; the second, Mathilde’s. Each half tells the story of a marriage from different perspectives, that of the contented white male and that of the supposedly angry white female.
Groff was on NPR a while ago talking about how it’s about feminine rage, in the great tradition of Madame Bovary. Perhaps this is a flaw in my own personality, but I did not read either Madame Bovary or Mathilde as especially rageful. Determined, yes. Ferocious, yes. Leonine, perhaps. But angry? Eh.
One part of the book that has been consistently overlooked is how much Mathilde actually loves Lotto. There is a sentence so beautiful near the end that I cried — it’s a quote about Mathilde looking at Lotto early in their marriage (very early, days into it) and deciding that he is only ever going to see her good side, that she is only ever going to show him her light, that any darkness or anger or sadness inside her will be hidden away from him forever. It is an absolutely beautiful sentiment, to love someone so much that you turn yourself into a beautiful fiction to make him happy.
Of course, not everyone can do that, and to some extent, marriage is about exposing your flaws and having someone love you in spite of them. Locking herself away does cause problems for Mathilde, in that she is inherently always holding herself distant from her husband, pulling his strings from across the room, ensuring he’s successful in ways he never discovers.
As a result, Lotto thinks he’s “fated” to be successful; that, like his beloved Shakespeare says, “Some have greatness thrust upon them,” and he is one of those. He has this perfect marriage, perfect wife and perfect career, the epitome of what being a rich white male can mean for someone. But Mathilde knows that all of these things rest on women working really hard to make them happen — namely, her, silently supporting her husband behind the scenes.
Perhaps, if there is rage in Mathilde, it comes after the climax of the book. She’s worked her entire life to hide her flaws, to support her husband, to smooth over her turbulent past and present a serene facade to everyone she encounters. But the value of that sacrifice is left ambiguous at the end of the book — and her anger comes from wondering why she did it, and what remains.