One of my top, top books of 2016 was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. It is the story of a marriage, college sweethearts, and the perspectives on their lives, shared and separate experiences. I am sure I am not alone in this, but it read as a perfect presentation of how our society works under its current patriarchal system.
Lotto describes himself and his journey as ‘I was born wealthy, white and male. I’d have nothing to work with if I don’t have a little struggle’. This summarizes the experience of the white male in our society, pretty perfectly. Lotto is poor by choice. ((There is so much I want to say about this book, so perhaps you should read the rest having read the book? Spoiler alert, maybe?))
He marries a young woman called Mathilde, who for the first half of the novel, the reader only knows through Lotto’s eyes, and the male gaze. She is perfect, described by another character as the ‘skinniest, prettiest’ and yes, mysterious girl on campus. She adores Lotto. She suffers for his art, working hard to pay bills as he struggles with unemployment, chasing his own dream. His unemployment, his inability to help his wife pay the bills and afford their lifestyle, is entirely a choice. Lotto makes the kind of choice only a rich, privileged white man (and maybe really rich beautiful young white girls, like those in GIRLS) can make; a choice made because he knows the second he genuinely needs help, he will get it.
Lotto’s ability to fail time and time again, to be propped up unknowingly by his wife and for him to only see where she fails him, where she lets him down and what he is missing in his life is a wonderful example of male privilege and the patriarchy in my eyes. I felt so deeply for Mathilde, she is a wonderful, three-dimensional representation of the stereotypes women are accused of. She sees herself as the worst other women are accused of. Heartless, unloveable. Other women being unbelievably jealous of her. She truely believes she is incapable of being loved, the fear inside so many women ( and the basis of so much advertising). As times she does things which make you think she is the worst (the scene giving up the dog, I howled, and then laughed with relief when they were reunited) but the gift of getting Lotto’s perspective first, is you see how Mathilde is forced into some of these decisions and actions.
Groff writes beautifully. I was utterly sucked into this story from the first page. It is raw, powerful and unflinching in showing the cost women pay for their gender. She writes about grief, and most specifically, about female grief. The women in this story all appear to grieve for men, the loss of men, or for the actions of men against them. One female character eventually dies from the result of a sexual encounter, which leaves the male character in a position of even greater privilege. Lotto’s mother is entirely destroyed by grief, and works to destroy those around her with hers.
I loved this book because it made me think. It swept me along with its fast moving plot. The characters were frustrating, sympathetic and at times so familiar it was eerie.
I would like to go further with this as an essay perhaps, deconstructing the novel, and maybe I will later in the year. I would love to see what other people have written about it.