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Monday, January 25, 2016

Fates and Furies and Maybe a Proper Book Review for Once?


It occurred to her then that life was conical in shape, the past broadening beyond the sharp point of the lived moment. The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and treasons that were nearly imperceptible when they happened stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges. – Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Oof, right? Think about that for a minute. If the hurts we inflict on others expands like a dot of marker you put on a balloon before blowing it up, what a pickle we are all in as human beings. As someone always profoundly aware of the way my words and actions may hurt people, but apparently unable to understand when I’m doing it again until it’s too late, I can’t get this thought out of my head.

“Your words have more weight than most people’s. You swing them wildly and you can hurt a lot of people,”

I’m so glad that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager. Where my words and opinions would still exist to be dug up. I like to say that when I was young, I was very stupid, but in reality I was just young. I’m also faced with the idea that the opinions I have now will appear equally as immature and facile to my 50-year-old self as the ones I did then appear to me now. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, and feel like I can manage the almost crippling anxiety when faced with the way I have hurt others. I can’t say that I’ve forgiven myself, but I can say that I have learned not to hate me, either.

So far this post is pretty hilarious. “Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.”

In Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff tells the story of what appears to be a near-perfect marriage.
Felt like yesterday, all that bodily joy. Begun so young they didn’t even know what they were doing and they wouldn’t give it up, so when they were old enough, they married. Not the worst thing to build a marriage around, such juice. The first years had been delirious, the latter ones merely happy.
Lancelot (Lotto for much of his younger years) and Mathilde meet at 22 and are married 2-weeks later. Mathilde is tall and striking, plain and odd-looking to some, profoundly beautiful to others. Lotto is handsome in a gangly way, acne-scarred but brimming with natural charisma. He spends his teens and early twenties as an unrepentant and prolific womanizer, yet becomes immediately and unerringly faithful upon marriage. Their friends marvel at the epic, once-in-a-lifetime romance, making bets with one another about how long such a thing could possibly last.

When I read the blurb on the inside jacket of Fates and Furies, I had a good idea of what I was in for, but instead I was constantly surprised. Groff avoids the now-clich├ęd ways in which a marriage can be rocked, focusing instead on words muttered when one or the other was tired or depressed. The two joke with each other, gently teasing, but at times the jibes hit too close, or catch the other off-guard. They understand each other more than anyone else in the world, and yet at times it’s clear how little they actually know.
That was when she knew, with existential bitterness, that her husband had understood nothing of her. Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage. The house in the country, the apartment in the city, the taxes, the dog, all were her concern: he had no idea what she did with her time.
The book is divided into two parts: In Fates, Lotto is a lovable narcissist and we follow his life with Mathilde as he struggles to be an actor then succeeds as a playwright. She is quiet and withdrawn, though showing at times something deep and hard about her. She arrived in his life a blank slate, with no friends or history. “Mathilde was there in the dawn, this perfect girl as if made to his specifications.” He worships her: “If she was happy, it meant she wouldn’t leave him; and it had become painfully apparent over their short marriage that he was not worth the salt she sweated.” But in that worship is a quandary: when he puts her on a pedestal as a saint, she is reticent to reveal anything about herself that may contradict that image. By creating a template for her to follow, he misses out truly knowing her and being a deeper part of her life.

In Furies, she tells her side of the story. There are surprises. It maybe gets a little too crazy with all of the revelations crammed into the book’s back third, but it was also when I was most gripped by it. I couldn’t stop until I finished and was not very useful the next day at work. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

“Three glasses into a bottle of bourbon; it was past four, who cared? He had nowhere to be; he had nothing to do; he was deeply depressed, fracking depressed, deep-shale shattered.”

“In sleep her eyelids were so translucent that he always thought if he looked hard, he could see her dreams pulsing like jellyfish across her brain.”

Lauren Groff's writing is frankly amazing. I can't wait to read more. The story she tells isn't tragic, though it has its tragic moments. It's not about a ruined marriage, but a lovely, happy one. That there are untold tales between them, or tough times, doesn't taint their life together as much as strengthen it. These people are deeply, tragically flawed, but darnit if you don't end up marveling at what they accomplish together.