a bookclique pick by Jessica Flaxman

Books about marriage always make me feel one of a few ways – grateful for the one I have, anxious about the one I don’t, and curious about what would have happened to me had I never married in the first place. Lauren Groff’s unputdownable Fates and Furies made me feel all of these things and more, revealing in glittering detail how marriage can bring out the best, the banal, and the absolute worst in each of us.

Mathilde and Lotto meet just before graduating from Vassar. He is a handsome actor from a wealthy but broken family. She is an enigma, a beautiful stranger to everyone at school, including Lotto, until he sets eyes on her, falls instantly in love, and swims to her like a Greek hero to a siren. The first half of the book is told through Lotto’s perspective. Although he was sexually voracious from the time he was a teenager until the moment he met Mathilde, he is completely faithful to her, at least in body, throughout their subsequent relationship. He obsesses over the idea that she is too good for him by far and will leave him. For the first years of their marriage, he gives her ample reason – he earns nothing, drinks to excess, gets few acting roles, is disinherited by his mother. He is needy, egotistical, brilliant, daft. He is the star of the show, the author of the play, the life of the party, the god clad in everyday clothes, the narcissist, the depressive. And at every turn, there is Mathilde, loving him unconditionally, picking him up when he has fallen down, inspiring his next move, and celebrating his success.

In Part I of the novel, Mathilde makes women both look good and feel bad. But questions start to nag the reader as Lotto’s story comes to a close – who is this perfect wife? Where did she come from? How did she become so selfless? And why are there no children in this sexually robust, passionate marriage despite the fact that Lotto continually expresses his desire for offspring? Part II of the novel paints a stunning and often shocking picture of what darkness lies beneath this gorgeous exterior. To tell Mathilde’s story for her in this review would be to rob the reader of the unsettling pleasure of reading Groff’s work. Definitely for a mature audience, Fates and Furies is a memorable book that will undoubtedly set tongues wagging.

Jessica Flaxman

Jessica Flaxman

Many years ago, Jessica took an English teaching job at Collegiate School in New York. She replaced an English teacher named Laura Dickerman. At first, theirs was a rivalry, but not too long after that, they became the best of friends. Jessica created bookclique in 2018 and recruited as many of her English teaching friends; students; and writers as she could to the collaborative project of promoting new books to the world. Laura is now the editor of bookclique, bringing all of her customary brilliance and energy to the shared work of celebrating books and book culture.