Fate & Furies, Starring “Mathilde Yoder”

I absolutely loved Lauren Groff’s novel, Fate and Furies. It runs right in line with the same themes of loneliness and relationships (much like my favorite novel, The Transit of Venus) that I’ve been ruminating on for some time.

As a contemporary piece, the novel runs right in line with the trending themes of this contemporary movement: issues of identity, relationships, time as non linear, attempts to capture the inner workings of the mind through writing, a lucid line between the narrator, the characters, and the reader. Much like a Fitzgerald or Woolf novel, the actual plot line of Fate and Furies does not sound too terribly interesting; in a nutshell, I would the story is about the marriage between ‘Mathilde’ and Lotto; the first half of the novel (titled “Fate”) follows Lotto, a promiscuous boy who fatefully falls (literally) into Mathilde at a party and asks her to marry him; he turns out to be a kind of arrogant, depressive playwright, and his story follows his successes and failures. The second half of the novel (titled “Furies”) follows Mathilde’s perspective and matches her journey to Lotto’s, which we find out is quite different. But, I would say it is Groff’s writing and her dedication towards these contemporary themes that makes this novel so exquisite. I’m not one for hot steamy romance literature (which is why I refuse to read Fifty Shades of Grey), and while Grotto incorporates some Fifty Shade-esque moments in the novel, those sentences are beautifully transcribed and intimate moments that only linger as long as necessary to depict the love between Lotto and Mathilde.

Much like how The God of Small Things or Mrs. Dalloway is written, Fate and Furies depicts time as non-linear and circles back and towards events that occur in the past, the present, and the future, and with each mention, we obtain more information regarding the event. So, in the beginning, we read about Lotto falling (literally) into Mathilde at the party, and we revisit that moment a few more times, each with a little more information, adding a little more meaning and a little more clarity, understanding, and empathy to the characters–it’s brilliant, really.

For a long time, I held this belief that, in order for a relationship to be successful, we must share every single detail, every single feeling, every single secret to become a solitary union. Grotto writes, “Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely; you do know someone entirely.” So, I think Fate and Furies makes the argument that perhaps we are two very separate creatures trying to unnaturally come together, and that perhaps there are some things that, in order for a marriage to work, we must keep from each other. The novel says, “Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.” Certainly there are things about Lotto’s background that he does not share with Mathilde, and there are things about Mathilde’s background that she does not share with him, and when some of those secrets do find their way out, Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship is compromised, and perhaps it would have been better for them not to have known (but don’t worry–these secrets happen before they are married, and there is no official infidelity in the novel–I think as readers, we are so accustomed to not trusting our lead characters that when Lotto never cheats on Mathilde, and Mathilde never cheats on Lotto, it seems unnatural). The best example of Mathilde and Lotto’s separateness occurs when Lotto finds out one his friends has died. The first time Grotto mentions this, Lotto is upstairs, reading the obituary in a newspaper, and he sees Mathilde standing downstairs (she smiles and walks away to entertain her guests) and upon a later revisitation of this same scene, we find out that Mathilde knew the whole time what was going on with Lotto, and chooses to remain ignorant–for the sake of Lotto (which I think shows a tremendous amount of strength and wisdom, although she is never explicitly awarded these noble traits)–and go back to her party.

In the beginning, the story seems to be centered around Lotto (which makes sense, because Lotto is supposed to be an arrogant, rich actor with boundless amounts of energy, a booming voice, good looking, charming, and the life of the party), but as details unfold, the story becomes more and more about Mathilde and the sacrifices she makes, silently behind the scenes for Lotto’s success and their relationship–and while everything appears to be about Lotto, it is actually Mathilde who becomes the unsung, hidden hero of the novel; the novel is about how women are often the secret support structures that allow their men to wave in the limelight. For example, (this really isn’t a spoiler) we find out that Mathilde was behind much of Lotto’s playwright success; she secretly edited and wrote some of his scripts while he was sleeping, or passed out, she calls agents and submits his work, she brings in a crowd of friends to sell out his show, and while Lotto gets all of the praise–it is his name that is written in the papers, on the programs–Mathilde stands back and lets him have his fame (Land later tells Mathilde that she is the most interesting person of Lotto’s life–the silent one that no one ever talks about). Groff says, “Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage.” We even find out that Lotto’s mother, whom he refers to as Muuva, while seems repulsive the whole time, has done some things to also shelter him so that he can acquire “the life he imagined”.

The novel is eloquent. It lingers. Grotto’s writing is creative, the story is delicate, beautiful, harmonious, and tragic all at the same time.

“The story we are told of women is not this one. The story of women is the story of love, of foundering into another. A slight deviation: longing to founder and being unable to. Being left alone in the foundering, and taking things into one’s own hands: rat poison, the wheels of a Russian train. Even the smoother and gentler story is still just a modified version of the above. In the demotic, in the key of bougie, it’s the promise of love in old age for all the good girls of the world.”

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