“Tell me the difference between tragedy and comedy…There is no difference. It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.” (High school literature substitute Denton Thrasher could be the authentic voice of Lauren Groff–or another unnamed goddess of circumstance.)
I have read reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies that mention that this is a realistic story about a marriage. And that’s true, but it’s mostly about the parts that make up a marriage: the partners. The story of a marriage has to be told by each part. Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite’s story is told in the first section called “The Fates.” His marriage, like himself, is complacent, naive, and even optimistic. He pegs his gorgeous wife Mathilde as “a pathological truth-teller,” but he really talks about himself, revealing his core value and virtue. Lotto is an open book, and so is his life, his marriage. Arrogant and privileged, yes, but also charismatic to a fault: Lotto is pathologically forgivable.
Mathilde Satterwhite’s story is told in the second section called “The Furies.” Mathilde is guarded, edgy, and damaged. She protects Lotto from the things that would burst his bubble of contentment. “Mathilde was not unfamiliar with grief. That old wolf had come sniffing around her house before.” She is a keeper of secrets. The keeper of secrets. In the end, she even keeps Lotto’s own secrets from himself. And like secret keepers, Mathilde is not very “likeable.” She is a near saint until she reveals herself in her own story. Hers is a story about an unpleasant woman married to a likeable man, and how that unpleasantness can (and is) often cast into the shadow that juxtaposes likeability. “Did you have any idea Mathilde could be such a bitch?” What happens when a dominant personality is no longer present. Lotto’s charms beg forgiveness for any slight; Mathilde’s transgressions are the most unforgivable: she is an angry woman. “Angry. Sure. Well, what’s the point in hiding it anymore?”
While Groff is describing the pieces of this marriage, she does not forget the whole. Marriage is more than the sum of its parts. Marriage is exponential. Together, these two become more than what they are individually, and their love is genuine. Look at another person and see the future, see home. Marriage is possibility. The end of a marriage, well…
So what’s the connection between a rich, white playwright and his wife and the ancient goddesses of destiny and vengeance? Well, the obvious answer is that Lotto’s life is guided by the Fates: directed by the external, living his allotted time on earth, seeing no more fortune and no less suffering than can even out in the end; and that Mathilde’s life is guided by the Fates: an anger born not made, decisions made with a ferocity that is almost gratuitous. These goddesses are said to be more ancient than the patriarchal Olympian pantheon that adopted them (and even said that the gods themselves are subject to their will). For more complicated theories, join Jan and Demi and the New & Noteworthy Book Club here at BookPeople this Thursday at 7pm as we discuss Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff’s metamodern Greek tragicomedy.
Don’t forget to join us in April on a wholly selfish trip as we discuss Every Anxious Wave from debut novelist (and our friend) Mo Daviau: a jubilant journey through time and space and indie rock.