Friday, December 23, 2016

Fates and Furies: Two stories under one cover

I may be late to the party, since Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies has been out awhile, but it's one of the books I've enjoyed this year that lived up to its promise. The rule of thumb for how long one must keep reading a book before giving up on it is 100 pages minus your age. Many times I've been rewarded for hanging in there when a book is a slow start. This book, however, drew me in quickly, not just with the story and the characters but the writing.

Divided into two parts (Fates and Furies--hence the title), the novel begins with the marriage of Lancelot ("Lotto") Satterwhite and his wife Mathilde at 22, just days after they first meet. Groff tells what could be considered a full story, tracing Lotto's life from before his birth, when his mother performing as a mermaid in Florida meets and marries his father, who becomes a bottled water magnate. The story follows twists and turns in their marriage, as Lotto fails to fulfill his early promise as an actor but finds success as a playwright. Geoff bring in and out of the story a large cast of characters--childhood friends, Lotto's agoraphobic mother, the twin brother of his first lover, college friends.

When the story shifts in the second half to Mathilde's life, readers may be surprised not only how much they didn't know about her, but how we failed even to be curious about her back story, just as fascinating as his, maybe more. When Groff weaves in the details of the famous art forger who, during WWII, fooled even Hitler's inner circle by painting his faux Vermeers over mediocre works on ancient canvases, it seems obvious that she overlays Mathilde's story over Lotto's.

Even before exploring the mythological allusions the title implies, I was drawn into the story with its surprises which I realize, on retrospect, were always laid out perfectly through the telling of this story of love, deceit, and revenge.

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