The saying ‘life imitating art’ might be used more often than necessary, but in Lauren Groff’s third novel Fates & Furies, it is an apt description for unsuspecting Lancelot ‘Lotto’ Sutterwhite’s life. The Fates narrative starts before his birth when his mother, a professional mermaid, and his father meet, following his conception, to his childhood, to meeting his own wife, Mathilde. Lotto is an aspiring actor, but despite his charisma he fails to make a real impact and as his dreams of making it slip away, he stumbles across his real talent for writing plays.
He is oblivious to the fact that his own life is following the structure of a tragedy. He does draw on his life experiences in his plays, the death of his father, his agoraphobic mother, the elopement that led to his disinheritance but the real tragedy lurks within his marriage. Lotto meets Mathilde at a college party, and after a whirlwind romance, they marry. He places her on a pedestal, and in her mind she raises him up to a certain respect too, but in twenty three years of marriage they never really know each other.
Furies is from Mathilde’s perspective and shows their life together in an entirely different light. She is not the serene, long-suffering wife of a creative genius. She is a furie, an orchestrator. The times where life has seemed to hand Lotto good fortune have been put in place by her. Underneath the calm exterior, she is furious. Determined to find love and someone to need her she creates a mask to hide behind. The woman her husband loves never existed.
A scene in which Lotto returns home from a writer’s retreat perfectly illustrates their opposing realities. He finds Mathilde sat in the kitchen, and is overcome with the stench of the rubbish that she hasn’t taken out since he left. He feels touched. Taking out the trash is his job, and she has waited for him to return to complete the task. Yet in reality, Mathilde has just arrived home from Thailand, having second-guessed her decision to leave him.
Fates & Furies suggests that there is no universal truth. We never fully experience life in the same way. The people in our lives play supporting roles. They are the people we need them to be, and that isn’t always the same as who they really are. Maybe, that’s what love is; hiding the parts of yourselves that would hurt the people you care about. Or maybe having to hide those parts makes it impossible.