Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. . . . . From the title, I expected something epic. From the publisher’s description, “And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets,” I expected something revelatory. From the acclaim, I expected to be impressed. Perhaps great expectations are meant to be dashed.
As I started reading, I was worried about members’ reactions. I even thought quite a bit about the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”[i] Then, only one week after our last meeting, JT wrote a scathing review that gave me even more pause. I will include it in the comments. Fates and Furies has been the first, and I hope only, book I have withdrawn. I don’t regret writing to warn readers how difficult the book is – CH wrote that she was glad to know that she was not the only one! RMP wrote that she was going to give it a try, but after starting the audiobook, she wasn’t so sure. I had quite a few other readers concur.
At our in-person discussion, KC reminded me that we read the book because of the book club and accept the difficulty. We read, looking for something about which to comment. He mentioned Carol B., who always came with pages of notes! Well, that commitment is not always true, especially now that our meetings are down to just three or four of us! We miss the varying points that bounce around. I still remember when, in response to Landline by Rainbow Rowell, one of us said she threw the book across the room when the author introduced a magic telephone. And Carol moved out of state in February.
So what did we think of Fates and Furies? JG hadn’t read the book, but she made a good contribution when talking about character motivations and the value of books outside our box. Although the language and descriptions are remarkable, they were not enjoyable for me. There There by Tommy Orange had some unidentifiable characters, but his descriptions seemed important and his language beautiful or necessary. I did not enjoy reading descriptions of a dog’s penis as a “tube of lipstick all the way extended.” Perhaps, if we were immersed in classical themes, mythology, and Shakespeare, which often have a lot of bawdy humor, incestuous and devious behavior, we might be better prepared to appreciate the grandiose treatment. KC chose this description to share, “Like most deadly attractive people, he had a hollow at the center of him.” Ha!
Since the secrets Mathilde kept stemmed from her childhood, it particularly reminded me of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, in which the adult reverted to the child to heal her trauma. KC and I agreed that Lotto’s sister and aunt were the only likeable characters. Lotto is a narcissist and Mathilde is both a fate and a fury. KC felt the intrusion of Lotto’s plays seemed too much, but the book is packed full and we might need to read it again. But will we? I think not.
I certainly expect us to fare better next month as we read a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. Exhalation is still a challenge, since we have only seldom read science fiction or fantasy, but sometimes reading something outside of this world can help us understand it even better!
At the meeting I shared a list of themes as well as other book club selections that seem related to me. It can be a great challenge to look back at what we read. Please comment or send me a message if you would like to continue the discussion! Thanks always.
- –Lotto and Mathilda
- –Chollie and Danica
- –Antoinette and Gawain
- –Samuel and three wives
- –Mathilda’s parents
- Children – parental/environmental/economic/genetic influences
- Gender roles
- Mythology – Grandiose
- Literary Pornography
- What makes an award winner?
PREVIOUS READING SELECTIONS THAT COME TO MIND, GROUPED THEMATICALLY:
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- Less by Andrew Sean Greer
- Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
- Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler
- Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
- Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
- Circling the Sun by Paula McClain
- There There by Tommy Orange
- God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
- This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
- Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
- Defending Jacob by William Landay
[i] There are many versions of this story, perhaps dating back over 1000 years. The one I think of is by Hans Christian Anderson (1837).
JT gave this great review (including spoilers): I will not be able to attend next months book club so I thought I would write my review. I was never so happy to finish a book as I was to finish this. I didn’t like her writing style and I did not like the characters.
Her writing was pretentious. I never had to look up so many words in 1 book in my life…simulacrum, lacrimal, homunculus, remora, labile, ekphrastic, chthonic, and on and on and on. And why not just say throw someone out a window instead of defenestrated? It was like she was trying to Impress us with her vocabulary! It was annoying. And I found her passages cloying….”grief is for the strong who use it for burning”, “bone fingers of water trees plucking stars from the sky”, “iridescent with sadness”, “incandescent with the news”, the moon “hove up like a ship in the navy edge of the sky”! What in God’s name is the Navy edge of the sky? “Humanity is an abstraction”! She didn’t impress me with her catchy phrases! And what was the point of the story about the boy coming out of the bathroom and someone kicked him and a turd fell out? What did that have to do with the plot or the characters?
Lotto was the best of her loathsome characters. But who forgets their 8 year old sister at the airport? And who calls their mother “Muvva”? And speaking of Muvva, she was a piece of work, she would rather not see her son than tolerate his wife! Cut them off financially after they married, paid off a girl who Lotto got pregnant. And lived a miserable existence! Lovely character! But maybe the fact that Mathilde’s parents disowned her and Lotto’s mother never saw him was what brought the 2 together. Even if Lotto never knew this information.
In Lotto’s version Mathilde was always happy and smiling, created an inviting home where all their friends were welcome, catered to his every need, supported him financially and emotionally. But then we read the dark side of Mathilde, killed her baby brother, put herself through college by being a kept woman! And not a pampered kept woman either, the part about crawling to eat sushi off the floor was disgusting! And after Lotto died she got meaner… Bought her family house in France, kicked them out, tore it down and tore out the ancient grape vines! Did that make her feel better? And sought revenge on Chollie! Who was another loathsome character.
When reading this book I was always thinking, “What kind of demented mind comes up with this stuff?” Unfortunately, I will never get back the hours I spent reading this book! And I will never read another book by Lauren Groff. She can try to impress other readers with her pretentious vocabulary.
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