‘Fates and Furies’

Robin Black in The New York Times:

BookThere’s always the danger, with novels structured around a marriage, that they’ll be perceived as centrally concerned not only with that particular relationship but with the nature of marriage itself. A domestic union set prominently in a work of fiction has the sometimes unfortunate capacity to obscure whatever else is going on. Yet “Fates and Furies,” Lauren Groff’s remarkable new novel, explodes and rages past any such preconceptions, insisting that the examination of a long-term relationship can be a perfect vehicle for exploring no less than the nature of existence — the domestic a doorway to the philosophical. The title sets the tone for this project, while also serving as a road map of sorts. The novel is divided into two sections, the first of which, “Fates,” is largely concerned with the husband, Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite, an unconventionally irresistible beacon of good will and good faith — and more than a bit of a narcissist. The opening lines introduce us both to him and to his wife, Mathilde Yoder, but we are soon told: “For now, he’s the one we can’t look away from. He is the shining one.” Wordplay abounds in “Fates and Furies,” starting with Lotto’s name and its link to such chance-related activities as lotteries. He’s the central character explicitly associated with fate and destiny, and as such he’s the more passive, the more accepting of the pair. And why not? From the beginning, fate seems to look on him with benevolence. His parents and his aunt, a crucial figure throughout, believe from Lotto’s birth that he’s destined for greatness: “It was taken for granted by this trio of adults that Lotto was special. Golden.” And indeed, despite some setbacks — including not being particularly gifted at his first career of choice, acting — he goes on to achieve world fame as a playwright. Still, Lotto’s life isn’t perfect, his optimism not always justified. An early tragedy primes him, the golden one, to need Mathilde, a woman as canny as he is trusting, as comfortable behind the scenes as he is in the spotlight, and as dissembling as he is a (mostly) open book.

The second section of the novel, “Furies,” shifts to Mathilde. Her life has never been defined by a sense of glorious destiny but rather by a compulsion to even the score, any score, many scores.

More here.