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13 October 2015

Book Review: Fates and Furies

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 A golden boy. A statuesque goddess. United in a young marriage--and a marriage of the young--that their circle of friends and family simultaneously idolize and criticize.

The story of the golden boy is told first. Then the story of the meeting and the marriage. Lotto (the boy) is fully described but never fully clear; Groff allows the reader to see him through different eyes and through different moods. At once he is handsome and tall and cartoonish and giant. His wife, Mathilde, is beautiful and stark and tall and grotesque. Shades of where Groff is going with exploring the dirty work that goes on inside a psyche while the world sees only what we allow them to see.

Which leads us to the story of the girl; her life without the lens of the boy's idealized vision of her perfection and impending sainthood. This section is labeled "Furies" which made me go back and realize that the whole first section, the story of the boy, was labeled "Fates"

Fates and Furies; Greek mythology. The Fates decide one's destiny. The Furies punish those who deserve punishment. The Graces make several uncredited appearances in the guise of the endless parties of friends that encircle the boy and the girl in the early years.

Analogy writ large here. And mostly constructed well.

I will stop short of calling this a work of genius. But it made me think. About marriage. About truth. About lies. About omission. About relationships. About the nature of hurt and abandonment. About the nature of revenge. About the gentle padding towards oblivion that we humans can either make pleasant and wonderful or a death march. Or, mostly, somewhere in between.

In the NPR review of this book, the reviewer wrote "The book is a master class in best lines; a shining, rare example of that most unforgiving and brutal writer's advice: 'All you have to do is write the best sentence you've ever written. Then 10,000 more of the best. Then find a way to string them together into the story of something.'"

Usually, I dog-ear pages where there is a particular word combination or idea that gives me pause; finding deep meaning in a pull-quote. But I didn't dog-ear many pages in this book. Is that because, as this NPR reviewer claims, that the whole book is a pull-quote? That the thoughtful-clever-amazing is so constant that it doesn't stick out enough for me to dog ear?

I didn't feel overwhelmed by literary brilliance while I was reading and maybe that's the brilliance of this book. In re-reading my dog-ears, I realize that most of them are not as pull-quote-worthy as I thought while I was reading, which probably means that more context is needed, which is the mark of a well-constructed book.

However, one of my dog-ears, early in the book, encapsulates, and foreshadows, the entire story. This description comes at the end of a party scene; during the party, the inner monologue of the main characters was alternately dark, hopeless and graceless. But they partied anyway, bathed in light and drink, singing carols to banish the inner gloom;

"A stranger hurrying as fast as he could over the icy sidewalks looked in. He saw a circle of singing people bathed in clean white from a tree, and his heart did a somersault, and the image stayed with him; it merged with him even as he came home to his own children, who were already sleeping in their beds, to his wife crossly putting together the tricycle without the screwdriver that he'd run out to borrow. It remained long after his children ripped open their gifts and abandoned their toys in puddles of paper and grew too old for them and left their house and parents and childhoods, so that he and his wife gaped at each other in bewilderment as to how it had happened so terribly swiftly. All those years, the singers in the soft light in the basement apartment crystallized in his mind, became the very idea of what happiness should look like."

A microcosm of the lesson of the book--things, and people, are never what they seem. A lesson that becomes ever-more important in today's social media saturated society, where we are all given tools--more tools than we have ever had before--to pretend to be more, or less, than we are. And get away with it.

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