Lotto and Mathilde meet at the very end of their final year of university and marry two weeks later. They’re young, broke, and both shocked by the fact of falling in love. Fates and Furies follows them through the next twenty or so years of their marriage, detailing the ups and downs, the secrets that they share and the secrets they keep. The early years are shown through the parties they throw – at first raucous and wild, then mellowing with age. Then, following a surprise career change for Lotto, the action slows and the story becomes more complicated.
The first half of the novel focuses on Lotto, following him from birth (and even before, giving details about his parents and their histories), his childhood and particularly his relationship with his mother, something that is an important factor throughout his life and his marriage. (A man with a mixed-up relationship with his mother seems a little heavy-handed and Freudian even but for the most part Groff keeps Lotto’s mother from being too heavy-handed.) In the second half of the story we learn of Mathilde’ childhood and all the things about her that Lotto never knew.
The key point of the novel is ostensibly that Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage is happy though unconventional and yet there is so much they have hidden from one another. The second half of the novel is primarily comprised of all the ways Mathilde is not who Lotto thought she was but she made him very happy, so does it matter? My problem here is that we never truly see the substance of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage. We never see them do anything together except host parties (which are often being thrown by one of them rather than both) and have sex. There doesn’t seem to be much basis for their relationships or for the reader to believe that they are so happy and in love. Where are their private jokes, their shared memories, the unique and mundane and sacred rituals of people who wake up together every day?
While both Lotto and Mathilde are fascinating characters, they aren’t people I’d want to spend time with in real life, despite being constantly told how charming Lotto is or how intriguing everyone finds Mathilde. The novel generally suffers from a bit too much telling rather than showing, which is especially disappointing because when Groff does show instead of tell, she does it very well. Groff never really makes her readers fall in love and so I’m not sure how much we’re supposed to believe the descriptions that are given to the main characters.
Overall, Fates and Furies has a lot of strong writing, characters with great potential, and some interesting revelations. Yet it falls short of feeling like a complete story and I was left to wonder what comes next.