Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Fates and Furies’ |

Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Fates and Furies’


‘Fates and Furies’

Lauren Groff

390 pages, hardcover: $27.95

Riverhead Books, 2015

Lauren Groff’s magnificent third novel, “Fates and Furies,” is and isn’t the story of a marriage.

Divided evenly in two sections, it tells the story of Lancelot and Mathilde — “Fates” through Lancelot’s eyes and “Furies” through Mathilde’s. We spend the first half of the book with Lancelot (known as Lotto in his youth), following this optimistic, attractive narcissist through his charmed life, which lands him a successful career in the theater. He meets and marries Mathilde near their graduation from Vassar.

The second half, “Furies,” is the same story told again, from Mathilde’s view, which turns the tale on its head. The secrets revealed and mysteries solved shape it into an entirely new narrative.

Both Lotto and Mathilde are devoted and loving through their decades-long marriage. Both have childhoods shaped by personal tragedy. Yet the narratives of their lives — and their life together — are vastly different, not just in the perception of shared experiences but in what is happening day to day.

Groff writes in crackling, succulent prose. Sentence for sentence, it’s gorgeous and unpredictable, often funny, sexy and incisive. The first 80 pages go from Lotto’s birth through the first three decades of his life — moving at breakneck speed, it’s compulsively readable yet somehow Groff’s economic style doesn’t seem to skimp on detail. A sort of Greek chorus comments throughout in pithy, bracketed phrases.

Readers of Greek mythology and Shakespeare — and a promiscuous host of others — will enjoy Groff’s sly allusions and blunt homages to her fictional forbears (Nabokov gets perhaps the most delicious, as a death is summed up: “Ski tumble; embolism.”)

Yes, the book is about marriage — about how you can never truly know another human being. But this remarkable novel aims higher than that — it ends up being about how the self is formed, how character is shaped, and how we live.

“Fates and Furies” is as ambitious as fiction gets. It’s also as rewarding as reading can be.

Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” is nominated for the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction. Winners will be announced Nov. 18.

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