Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Not sure how I really feel about this book
***[CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE NOVEL]***
This may be the first book I've read where I came away not really sure how I felt about it. From the description on the book cover I expected a story about how two people in love made their marriage work through all the problems life threw at them, but I didn't really feel that's what I got when I read the story. I can't even say the marriage described as extraordinary was even a good marriage [it certainly wasn't a healthy one] or one I would want for myself. To me, the book strikes me more as a guide for what not to do.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part called, Fates, is the story of Lotto up to the point he dies. The second part called, Furies, is about Mathilde and how she survives in the aftermath of losing her soul mate until she, herself, also dies. We also learn who she is and how different she was from the vision Lotto had of his wife.
The first lesson the book imparts is that it's great to encourage your child, but when you foist unrealistic expectations on a child, it may end up ruining his life and causing most of his problems as an adult. If the child doesn't achieve this greatness you've burdened him with achieving, he can feel a failure. I think some of Lotto's problems are because he had this mantle thrust upon him from the moment he was born.
Lotto [named Lancelot] is born in Florida to Gawain and Antionette. His aunt, Sallie, bestows on him the nickname of Lotto. Maybe if his father hadn't died Lotto's lot in life would have been a better one. Antionette becomes obsessed with religion thanks to Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker as part of her plans to help Lotto achieve his greatness. She spends a great deal of time reading to her son from the bible. Luckily, his father balances out his wife's religious zealotry and keeps it real. It's why I believe Lotto would have had a better life if his father had lived, instead of being put in the sole care of his mother.
Later in life, Lotto is described as a narcissist. Sometimes a narcissist is born and sometimes one is made, and in Lotto's case I believe he was made by the adults that surrounded him and kept drumming into his head he was made for greatness. He could never settle for not being considered great, because it was drummed in his head he was destined for greatness. It was his fate. Who wouldn't become a narcissist being raised like that?
And therein lies the danger of not just supporting or encouraging your child but filling his head with unrealistic expectations that he can never hope to live up to. That's why when one critic didn't love his plays he sunk into a deep depression. He needed everyone to love him, because that was how he was raised. Everyone around him loved him and told him he was great. That's not a healthy way to be raised as when you get older there will be people who don't love you and think you're the greatest, which left Lotto unprepared for when someone didn't like him or think he was great.
Lotto's happy existence comes to an end when his father, Gawain dies, and his mother sells their home. And things just go from bad to worse after that. Lotto gets in with what one might call the wrong crowd and starts doing all sorts of drugs. After Gawain dies, you could say Lotto is treated to a host of unfortunate circumstances, most orchestrated by his mommy dearest's bad parenting decisions.
One night he's having sex with a girl on the roof of a burning house and the police catch him. Afterwards, Antionette exiles her son to a boarding school away from the warm climes of Florida and refuses to allow him to even return home for holidays. Little does she know she will never see her son again because of her actions.
This is a total culture shock for Lotto. He's in a frigid climate opposed to the tropic climate he's used to and taken away from what friends he had. He's in a school where he's no longer treated as being special and where he teased and taunted. He's suffering from bad teen acne. He's no longer the popular boy everyone loves. In short, twice while her beloved son was still grieving the loss of his father she's ripped all the foundation of security out from him.
So miserable in this new set of circumstances Lotto decides he will kill himself. He saw a gun in the dean's desk. He sneaks in but before he can find the gun and try to kill himself he makes a grisly discovery. Another boy who is also being teased and tormented beat him to the punch and he finds his body. While Lotto is dealing with that, a substitute teacher sexually molests him. After that, Lotto becomes a bit of a slut having sex with men and women. That is, until he meets Matilde.
Throughout Lotto's life he goes through periods of deep depression. He's going through one of those periods when he'd getting wasted and spots Matilde at a party. He falls instantly under her spell and the first words out of his mouth to her are, "Will you marry me." The party is so loud he mistakes her no for a yes. And that's kind of the story of their life together. Him thinking they're one way while they're really another.
Lesson two the book teaches us is you may know someone but not really know them. It's true. I thought I knew my mother. She told me she had been married twice, but then I discovered she'd been married three times and she didn't want to discuss it and I let her have her secrets. Spouse or parent we know what they show us, but we don't know what they keep hidden, so we never really know them.
What Lotto doesn't know about Matilde could fill a book. Matilde isn't her real name. He thinks she was a virgin when they first had sex but she was just having her period and she let him think that. He thinks she wants children like he does, and doesn't know that she aborted their child and had herself sterilized so she wouldn't get pregnant again. She also secretly edits and improves [but does she?] the plays he writes and feels she's responsible for his success as a playwright.
There's a point when they first meet when both Lotto and Matilde think of walking away from each other. Lotto feels dread but ignores it. Perhaps he knows he's about to marry a woman just like dear old mom. And Matilde thinks it would be kinder not to subject herself on this unsuspecting male knowing herself for who she really is. But they ignore those doubts and marry.
For all the flaws in their marriage and in themselves they do love each other very much and never cheat on each other. Although, near the end of his life it looks like Lotto may stray when he comes infatuated with a male composer. He even decides to spend Thanksgiving with the man working on an opera together instead of spending it with his wife. However, the infatuation with the man dies a quick death when the music the man composes isn't what he dreamed it would be and he returns to his wife.
Just when all the trials seems to be over, Chollie, a human leech that had attached himself to Lotto since he was a teen, arranges for Lotto to learn the truth about his wife. She was sleeping with another man when they met and she was no virgin. Lotto never confronts his wife about this, but considers leaving her over it, having his illusions about her destroyed. But as Lotto dies from an aneurysm just as his father did, he regrets not being able to grow old with Matilde and realizes that there isn't any betrayal of hers that he couldn't forgive.
At this point in the story we get to the second half of the story and learn all about Matilde. She was born Aurelie. Aurelie seemed to have sociopathic tendencies as she caused the death of her baby brother. The author gives two versions of what happened, but no matter how you slice it she caused the death of her brother. Her parents realized that and abandoned her. She was sent to live with her grandmother, who was a prostitute, and who made her live pretty much in a closet. Then she got sent to live with her criminal uncle. To pay for college she got into a degrading relationship with a man named Ariel, the man she was sleeping with when she met Lotto. And her meeting with Lotto was something she arranged, it wasn't fate or kismet.
We also learn that every time Lotto had wanted to reconcile with his mother, Matilde thwarted it. Antionette had tried to buy off Matilde when she learned Lotto had married her and Matilde vowed she'd make sure Antionette never saw her son, again, and she carried through on that threat.
After his death, Matilde writes her own play under an assumed name and it's a flop no one comes to see. Before Lotto's death, Matilde runs into the critic that was always trashing his plays and she says Lotto could be so much better if he stuck with the character and relationships he wrote about. Was that stuff Matilde added or was that what Lotto had written? Would Lotto had been an even bigger success if Matilde hadn't secretly altered his plays to make them better? Or could he only have success on plays they collaborated on?
I guess that's one of the many things we'll never know. Much like we have to wonder if it wasn't learning one small truth about his wife that he couldn't handle that brought on his death. Or what he wrote in his last play that he died working on that Matilde refused to read for fear it would destroy her.
The author puts out a lot of different issues that she doesn't really comment on and lets the readers feel however they feel about it. I'm not sure how I feel about this book as I said before. I even had to read another book to cleanse my mind of this one. It's a compelling but very disturbing book that stays with you. It's a voyeuristic view of a marriage no one should have.
Ultimately, it's a very dark love story with a lot of very dark people. Would things have been better had Lotto and Matilde walked away from each other? For some reason, I don't think any other relationship would have worked for Lotto and what happiness he had in his life she gave him. That she was his soul mate. As for Matilde, Lotto's greatest achievement may have been making her her best self by loving her the way he did, because once he was gone she just marked time until she, herself, died, too, reverting back to who she was before Lotto came into her life.
There's a scene in the Furies section of the book where Malthilde is watching as a mother watches her child try to scale up a snow drift and fail again and again and wonders what kind of a mother would do that. But she was letting her child try to succeed on her own and fail. Only when it became obvious her child couldn't do it did she give her help and go out and comfort her. Matilde doesn't doesn't give the same gift to Lotto.