In the end, and from the beginning, Groff has created a novel of extraordinary and genuine complexity. A reader might quibble with the occasional word choice that feels forced, or the too convenient turn of a plot point here and there, but before a doubting eyebrow can be fully raised, Fates and Furies has you newly absorbed, admiring its next accomplishment. The word 'ambitious' is often used as code for 'overly ambitious,' a signal that an author’s execution has fallen short. No such hidden message here. Lauren Groff is a writer of rare gifts, and Fates and Furies is an unabashedly ambitious novel that delivers — with comedy, tragedy, well-deployed erudition and unmistakable glimmers of brilliance throughout.
[I]f you do want to learn how to be a great writer, you could do worse than skipping out on that M.F.A. program or pricey writer's retreat, dropping 28 bucks ($17-something on Amazon!) on this book, studying the hell out of it, and then spending all that money you just saved on gin cocktails and hats. It's that good. That beautiful. Occasionally, that stunning.
The prose is not only beautiful and vigorously alert; it insists on its own heroic registration, and lifts this story of a modern marriage out of the mundane...So it is an enormous shame that the novel’s second half squanders in quick moments what was slowly accumulated in the first half’s careful pages....The 'revelation' of [this] second half, far from binding the form in meaning, is the thread that fatally unravels it. Narrative secrets are not the same as human mysteries, a lesson that novelists seem fated to forget, again and again; the former quickly confess themselves, and fall silent, while the true mysteries go on speaking.
As engrossed as I was in the elaborate, clashing tales of [Lotto and Mathilde's] marriage, I didn't find myself caring at all about them or believing in them, for that matter. Granted, not every novel needs to be character-driven to be worth reading, and there are plenty of other reasons to read and admire Fates And Furies. It's just that without the presence of compelling characters at its core, Groff's novel ends up being an austere, architectural achievement. There are certainly worse things for a novel to be, but there are also better.
In Groff’s telling, the darkness of marriage does not seem particularly bad — the bonds that hold Mathilde and Lotto together are no less real for not being made of full disclosure. Groff’s hard, realist vision of marriage — not the fairy-tale voices of the fates that embroider it — gives her novel its considerable force.
Groff isn’t much interested in dissecting the obvious questions raised by a split narrative: the subjectivity of memory, the subtle, often gendered, differences in perception. The differences between Lotto and Mathilde’s stories are much more dramatic, plot points rather than psychological nuances. What comes across instead are two vibrant individuals and the shifting constellations of family and friends that shape them, a feat all the more remarkable given that the prose doesn’t noticeably change between sections...Nonetheless Groff’s rich, energetic prose keeps Fates and Furies afloat, and it’s a testament to her abilities as a portraitist that Lotto, and especially Mathilde, are fascinating individuals, even if the novel doesn’t quite come together as a whole.
Fiction, thankfully, lets us experience and learn from the lives of others. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff's audacious and gorgeous third novel, offers readers such access by depicting over two decades between a husband and wife. The result is not only deliciously voyeuristic but also wise on the simultaneous comforts and indignities of romantic partnership...Lauren Groff has taken the struggles and pleasures of marriage and turned them into art, and in that artfulness she reminds us of the dangers and omissions that any storytelling requires.
The novel falters when its unreality (a brilliant play written in five hours!) rubs too closely to its portentous sentences. But the novel is remarkably cohesive, considering how far Groff is willing to push her central characters...Fates and Furies doesn’t blow up marriage, but it’s a ferocious attack on its pieties and commonplaces. The marriage plot is forever, but Groff has found a new way to court the reader.
Groff layers on the trauma so thick as to be implausible...[She] is a manipulator of information, who controls what the reader understands in a novel that is all about narration. She won high praise for a volume of short stories and two previous novels. Here, she has Mathilde express what is surely her own hankering for a 'messier, sharper' fiction. Perhaps others will find more to admire than I did in this strange mashup of literary and pulp fiction.
Lauren Groff’s new novel, Fates and Furies, should be read with both eagerness and caution. Sentence by sentence, this novel, like her others, is a thoroughbred. Measured by its narrative tricks, however, it is a Trojan horse. Groff’s story of a marriage in which neither partner truly understands the other uses a sophisticated technique to tell its simple story, subverting our expectations with a two-voice counterpoint as meaningful as it is dazzling.
Each [part] comes with its own comforts and terrors, its own insights and blind spots. Fates, published alone, would have felt slight. Furies, published alone, would have seemed farcical. In binding them together and letting the parts reflect each other like distorted mirrors, Groff reminds us that while Lotto may live in a dream world, he’s not the only one.
Whenever Fates and Furies has a dark undercurrent to trumpet, it announces its insights before readers can make their own discoveries. In this much more manipulative and even conventional book, the shock value of the main characters’ secrets wipes out too much of the sublime subtlety and originality that distinguish Ms. Groff at her best. Ms. Groff’s prose can be gorgeous, especially with the erotic heat she brings to it here. It can also be florid and odd...But she’s still a writer whose books (which also include the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds) are too exotic and unusual to be missed, and whose brief career has been one of immense promise.
...Fates and Furies takes a leap into unforgettable territory. It's a swoony love story, a complex mystery, a modern fairy tale, a comedy of manners, a dark and shocking revenge drama, all expertly interwoven and told in prose so lyrical and lovely that its sentences can sweep you off your feet.
Groff is a fantastically vivid writer, though baroqueness can get the best of her, and her protagonists’ flowery self-regard wears thin. Still, it’s hard to stop reading. Lotto and Mathilde may be exhausting, but they’re also almost as fascinating as they think they are.
This expansive, brilliant novel offers up a reading experience unlike others, a sort of labyrinth-like fun house of distorted mirrors and unseen trapdoors. At the beating heart of all of this is Groff’s memorable couple — Lancelot, or 'Lotto,' Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder — who captures the reader’s complete attention until the novel’s final page.
Fates and Furies is not the first piece of writing to question how much two people, even a 'perfect couple,' can ever really know each other. Groff is not the first writer to build a novel on an unreliable, even unlikable narrator or two. Nor is she the first to present a seemingly happy marriage from two conflicting perspectives. (Superficial, inaccurate, but understandable comparisons will be made to Gone Girl.) What's different and remarkable about Groff's third novel can be summarized in two little words: the writing. Groff is a prose virtuoso, and in Fates and Furies she offers up her writerly gifts in all their glory.
For the most part Groff’s writing is striking and revelatory, taking on levels of mythic resonance appropriate to the grandeur of this god-kissed relationship. Sometimes she overplays her hand, and her prose feels strained and overly loud, like a gifted singer belting out every note because she can. Some readers may roll their eyes at a modern character named Lancelot — and in these pages, too, there is a Gawain and a Roland and a dog named God. Fates and Furies can seem out to make an impression first and tell a good story second, but if occasional affectation is the cost of such ambition, it was worth the gamble.
Groff writes with an exuberance, intelligence, and wit that few of her contemporaries possess. Her prose is frank and graceful, but behind her genius lingers a certain darkness in her characters and her plot...Fates and Furies is tragedy and comedy in one brilliant vision.
Groff’s novel comes furnished with trapdoors and distorting mirrors, but it isn’t all trickery. Far more striking is her lyrical prose. Every page contains at least one rich metaphor or dazzlingly original image...Some of this is laid on too thick, clogging paragraphs and stymieing narrative development. Also, Groff’s characters’ words enchant but don’t always convince. However, the bulk of the time Groff gets the balance just right and produces stunning results.
Lauren Groff’s latest novel, Fates and Furies, is the beautiful but anguished autopsy of a marriage rendered in a ballet of sentences...Groff’s opus will leave you smarting and aggrieved, reaching for the body beside you.
It would do Groff a disservice to suggest that this book rests on having any particular 'point'; the novel exists in its sentences, its breaths, its sliding between the human and the sublime...But nonetheless, the moment that most astonished me was reading about Mathilde for the first time from her own perspective, and realizing how eclipsed she'd been by Lotto's enthusiasm, love, and -- let's just say it -- masculine self-regard. With Lotto guiding us, Mathilde is a beautiful woman, self-effacing and calm, if at times a bit chilly, and it's her disappointment that he fears most. She is his loving wife who works to support his failed acting career and buoys up his successful writing. He worries that she'll leave him, that his lost family money...will prove too great a burden. And then, only eventually, he fears she's deceived him by cheating. This in and of itself is a rich, if familiar, story. Then you turn the page.
In the novel’s attempt at emotional complexity, its secrets and arguments just barely evade what is perhaps the most vexed literary crime—excessive melodrama. What rescues Fates and Furies are Groff’s sentences, as always lithe and poetic, unrolling like a glimmering carpet to the gray and uncertain territory of her characters’ inner conflicts. She wields an almost-wizardly command of language, specifically metaphor.
While some literary novels hold back, sticking to a safe and narrow domestic realism, Fates and Furies never does. Certain elements of the novel can feel absurd, but no smart reader would want to eliminate this, thereby reducing the volume or intensity or cathartic thrill of the book. Groff’s earlier novels were quirky and beautifully written, but this novel is more: it’s a tour de force. Thrilling, kaleidoscopic, impressionistic, and seeded with important questions about love, art, and storytelling, Fates and Furies is an unforgettable masterpiece, likely to be among the best novels of the year.
In a swirling miasma of language, plot, and Greek mythology, Groff (Arcadia) weaves a fierce and gripping tale of true love gone asunder....Groff's prose is variously dewy, defiant, salacious, and bleak—a hurricane of words thrown together on every page.
The plotting is exquisite, and the sentences hum; Groff writes with a pleasurable, bantering vividness. Her book is smart, albeit with an occasional vibrato of overkill...An intricate plot, perfect title, and a harrowing look at the tie that binds.