Puzzled by Fates & Furies

What comes next is going to be super spoiler-y. If that kind of thing pisses you off. Stop now.

When I read that Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies was nominated for a National Book Award, I wanted to stop reading it right that second. I don’t have a good record with the National Book Award and its nominees for the prestigious fiction prize. When I scroll through the list of past nominees and winners I’m all “Hated it. Hated it. Ugh, barf. Hated it.”

It seems the people who award these things have a penchant for beautifully written, puzzling, frustrating stories where not a lot actually happens. So it goes with Lauren Groff’s latest.

In this one we get the story of the marriage between Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder, a tall, shiny beautiful couple who met and married during the last few weeks of their time at Vasser.

The first 2/3 of the book is told from Lotto’s point of view. We see his early beginnings in Florida, his banishment from the family, his golden-boy days of boarding school and college, how he struggles outside the warm confines of college, and then his slow rise to fame and fortune as a renowned playwright. All along, good ol’ Mathilde is there to support him in every way possible.
The last third of the book is told from Mathilde’s point of view and pretty much upends everything we’ve learned from Lotto. She’s not Mathilde at all, in fact she’s Aurelie, a former-French girl who was banished from her family because of a horrible accident when she was still a toddler, an accident her family blamed her for. She never tells Lotto any of this, or the fact that she traded sex for tuition from a wealthy art dealer all through college. In fact, Mathilde keeps her entire past from her husband.

This Mathilde at the end of the book is all fire and fang and not all the Mathilde Lotto told us about.

So, what the fuck?

This book puzzles me. I’m not sure what to make of this story. I’m not sure why Lauren Groff, whose previous work I love, has chosen to tell the story in this way. What is she trying to say?

We learn pretty late that Mathilde has orchestrated quite a few things in Lotto’s life. . . from heavily editing his first, wildly-popular play to bribing her creepy uncle for the money to finance it, yet she never tells Lotto about any of these machinations. Why? I don’t understand why she would do all this and keep it under wraps. I mean, it’s obvious Mathilde’s got some issues, but come on!

I can’t figure out what this is supposed to mean. As Mathilde is unspooling her story for the reader she never once wavers about her love for Lotto, even when she leaves him briefly (unbeknownst to him). Are we, the reader, supposed to believe that she was really in love? So in love that she had to hide her past from him? And what kind of love is that where you can’t share those kinds of things with your partner? It’s not like Lotto wouldn’t understand, hell, he was pretty much banished from his family too. Isn’t that something they could have bonded over?

Is the point of this story that marriage is nothing but two strangers who have decided to put up with each other because of reasons and that you can’t really ever truly know the person you are sleeping next to? Is the moral that men are hapless, clueless, self-involved hunks of meat and women are the ultimate, self-sacrificing puppet masters?

I just don’t get it, and I want to get it because I love Lauren Groff’s writing.

And what was all that revenge-seeking on Chollie? Can someone who read the book explain that to me? And then the long lost kid? And why was Mathilde so weirded out by the little red-headed Canadian composer boy?

And why?
And why?
And why?

Why don’t I get this book? What am I missing?

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  1. AC 17.Feb.16 at 1:29 pm

    100% this! Admittedly I listened to the audiobook, but I’ve listened and re-listened, and cannot for the life of me figure out the deal with the Chollie revenge issues… Chollie originally vowed revenge on…Lotto, for unknowingly screwing up his twin sister, and then later on Mathilde, for appearing to be a cheating skank to his “best friend”? So Chollie tells Lotto XX years later and and and… Someone, please explain this to me. It has been 3 months and I am still scouring the internet for answers to some of this…

  2. Lauren K. 04.Nov.16 at 1:30 pm

    You have to appreciate a story that is grounded in human psychology, and not as much about “what happened” – I think that’s why the people who love this book love it. Chollie expressed his jealousy of Mathilde early on- he and Mathilde were similar in that they were wounded from their childhoods and felt safe in being loved by Lotto. As Chollie put it, Lotto “loved you for exactly who you were,” and he had resented Mathilde ever since he saw her dining with Ariel and understood their raunchy relationship by the way she appeared withdrawn and dressed provocatively. Mathilde didn’t want to lose Lotto’s affections and focus- we see how much he idolizes Mathilde in the Fates section – to Leo the composer. As Mathilde says, Lotto was a heterosexual, but he had always been lustful and could easily become entranced by someone’s brilliance. As far as the long lost son, I believe this is to function in a few different ways- it gives more impetus to why Chollie would seek revenge (for his sister), it provides yet another example of the kind of “immense love” between parent and child (though it was deeply immoral for Antoinette to do what she did) that Mathilde doesn’t understand, and the discovery is provided by Sally & Rachel who deliver the knews to Mathilde with complete acceptance of all her dark secrets…


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