Novelist Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” is a vivid and engrossing portrait of a marriage, in which a couple’s electric attachment hides a thicket of lies and secrets. Groff appears Thursday, Oct. 1, at Seattle’s University Book Store.
‘Fates and Furies’
by Lauren Groff
Riverhead, 400 pp., $27.95
“Two people were coming up the beach. She was fair and sharp in a green bikini, though it was May in Maine and cold. He was tall, vivid; a light flickered in him that caught the eye and held it.”
This is our introduction to Lotto and Mathilde, who are in their early 20s and have just wed.
In her vivid and engrossing new novel, “Fates and Furies,” Lauren Groff offers one of the most absorbing, intimate accounts of a modern marriage I’ve read in a good while. Moving back and forth in time, it explores a prismatic love union between two seemingly charmed people.
The author of “Fates and Furies” will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday Oct. 1 at Seattle’s University Book Store; free (206-634-3400 or ubookstore.com).
The first two-thirds of the book follows the whirligig journey of Lotto (born Lancelot Satterwhite), from his own point of view. (The last third is from Mathilde’s vantage point.)
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Exceedingly tall and magnetic, Lotto is born into a wealthy Florida clan and always considered special, “golden.” He loses his father early, barely makes it through a wild adolescence and at college becomes a campus star after he takes up acting.
There is an insatiable hunger for attention, adoration, sex and liquor driving this good-hearted boy. He finds his match in Mathilde, a willowy and enigmatic ex-model whom he worships on first sight and marries in defiance of his mother after a brief, electric courtship.
As much as “Fates and Furies” is about their deeply entwined relationship, Groff also deftly examines friendship, survival, creativity and self-reinvention in a story that spans two lifetimes. Groff’s diamond-hard narration, incisive humor and luxuriantly sensuous prose make her new novel a superb follow-up to her well-received previous novel, “Arcadia.”
Through lean years in Greenwich Village, the erotic connection between and interdependence of Lotto and Mathilde intensify. Lotto finds his innate charisma and middling talent don’t get him far as an actor. Disowned by his born-again mother, he drinks and parties hard, relying on the patient, observant Mathilde for sustenance, succor and for the notion of ditching acting to become a playwright — a highly successful one.
Lotto’s quick rise to prominence, given the snippets of his plays included here, doesn’t quite ring true. And unlike most contemporary dramatists, he seems oblivious to the lucrative potential of also writing for TV and film.
But one of the book’s most dazzling sequences illuminates the bona fide risks of creation and collaboration — and their impact on a marriage. It takes place at an arts colony, where Lotto retreats to work on an opera with a misfit composer, whose neediness tragically eclipses his own.
The homoerotic undercurrent between them is nuanced. Elsewhere the carnality is explicit — loving and passionate, or savage and disturbing, especially when we turn to Mathilde’s saga and view past and present through her outwardly cool, inwardly enraged perspective.
Things we (and Lotto) have taken as truths turn out to be lies, or misperceptions, or selfishness masking as sacrifice. Behind Mathilde’s facade of genuinely devoted helpmate is a dark twin: a complicated survivor whose bitter youth has made her tougher, more calculating and angrier than the ever-innocent and guileless Lotto could ever imagine.
Does one ever really know one’s spouse? What the two exceptional narrators of “Fate and Furies” know, don’t know and eventually learn about each other make this a riveting and revelatory love story, indeed.