Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

(c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Three Fates              Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If there was a consensus choice for best book of 2016, it was Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff’s microscopic view of modern marriage. According to Ms. Groff’s website, Fates and Furies is a finalist for the National Book Award, finalist for the Kirkus Prize, NPR’s Morning Edition Book Club Pick and a New York Times Bestseller. It was Amazon’s book of the year and also President Obama’s favorite book of the year, after learning of which the author tweeted: “I just died, came back to life, read again, died again. That’s it, I retire.” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/10/obama-favourite-book-of-2015-lauren-groff-fates-and-furies

Fates and Furies is another novel in which you see two different marriages that are one and the same. In the first half of the novel deals in Lotto’s viewpoint of his perfect marriage to Mathilde, “the best person I know,” whose endless sacrifices, patience and pragmatic luminescence fulfill Lotto in ways even he doesn’t understand. This is Fate.

Lotto was weeping; he could tell from the cold on his face. He tried to keep quiet. Mathilde needed sleep. She had been working sixteen-hour days, six days a week, kept them fed and housed. He brought nothing to their marriage, only disappointment and dirty laundry.


Orestes Pursued by the Furies, John Singer Sargent

In part two, Groff lets us in on a little secret. Mathilde is in fact not the best person Lotto knows.

The woman stopped five feet from Mathilde with a little cry. Mathilde brought her hands to her cheeks. “I know,” she said. I’ve looked so old ever since my husband — ”

She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“No,” the woman said. “You’re still elegant. It’s just. You look so angry, Mathilde.”   . . .

Slowly, Mathilde said: “Angry. Sure. Well, what’s the point of hiding it anymore?”

And then she lowered her head, pressed on.

Her anger is just the beginning. For every ecstatic beatitude Lotto offers, Mathilde has a hidden counterpart. Her past, her dealings with Lotto’s mother, her feelings about having a child; even the smile that perpetually creases her divine face. These are the Furies.

fates and furiesThe New York Times ran an unreservedly positive review in September, 2015 and named Fates and Furies one of the 100 Notable Books of 2015.

 A domestic union set prominently in a work of fiction has the sometimes unfortunate capacity to obscure whatever else is going on. Yet “Fates and Furies,” Lauren Groff’s remarkable new novel, explodes and rages past any such preconceptions, insisting that the examination of a long-term relationship can be a perfect vehicle for exploring no less than the nature of existence — the domestic a doorway to the philosophical. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/books/review/lauren-groffs-fates-and-furies.html

Groff weaves Greek mythology into the narrative and even her technique harkens back to classical Greek literary traditions. An unnamed voice comments parenthetically throughout like a Greek chorus.

Each of the three Greek Fates plays a hand in the plot: Clotho the Spinner of the Thread of Life, Lachesis, the Measurer of the Thread allotted to each person; and Atropos, the Cutter of life’s thread. The Furies, more of a girl group of nameless “infernal goddesses”play a critical role in the Orestes myth for pursuing Orestes into madness after he murders his mother. There’s some fun gals!

The Slate book club discussion illuminates and challenges several of Groff’s devices and is available to listen to online: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/12/lauren_groff_s_fates_and_furies_book_club_and_discussion.html. If you want to get really literary for your book club, there are a plethora of reading guides for this novel on line; everything from NPR’s Morning Edition to the University of Virginia.

Or you can just read it, enjoy it and see whether, like the Oracle of Delphi, it has a message for you.


I’m actually hosting my book club’s discussion of this book next week and drawing my menu from the potluck garden party Lotto and Mathilde host early in their marriage.

Bibb Lettuce salad with vinaigrette

Vinaigrette: two tablespoons of dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of sugar, fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, mint) and 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar. Drizzle olive oil stirring until you have the consistency you want. You can use lemon juice in place of the vinegar if you prefer.

Spanakopita (I’ll get these at Trader Joe’s)

Artichoke Dip. Always a favorite and a simple recipe. One can of artichoke hearts, one cup of mayonnaise, one cup of parmesan cheese. Blend and bake at 350 until hot and crusty and delicious.

Lasagna. I don’t have a recipe for this yet, but my mother told me her secret is to add cream cheese to the ricotta. I’m going to try it with turkey instead of beef. I’ll let you know how it turns out.


Antigone by Frederic Leighton


Mentions: The opera Tristan und Isolde; Salt-N-Pepa; Nirvana; Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Then there are the fictional operas of Nero and Go.

There is an opera by Carl Orff entitled Antigonae which might be fun to listen to, or might be a drag. I wanted to mention it in case you were interested, but I think I’ll play Thriller.



Lotto: Liam Hemsworth

Mathilde: Emma Stone

Chollie: Jonah Hill

Happy Reading!

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Wedding Bells


On August 15, my handsome, intelligent, exciting boyfriend got down on one knee and presented me with a beautiful ring and asked me to be his wife! So now I have a fiancé! And I’m ecstatic to be planning our wedding, which has me thinking about all the fine works of literature that feature weddings. I thought I’d share a few. (Jane Austen will have to have her own blog.)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides  marriage-plot

According to the author, this was his attempt to write a modern Jane Austen novel. As such, it is a woeful failure. It’s far too jaded. But not as a work of its own. Madeleine Hanna is graduating from Brown University in the early 1980s with a degree in literature, a hangover, a best friend who’s in love with her, Mitchell, and a mentally unstable, sometime-boyfriend named Leonard.

. . .Leonard sat up. His head wasn’t crowded with thoughts. There was only one. Rolling off the bed onto his knees, Leonard took Madeleine’s hands in his much bigger hands. He’d just figured out the solution to all his problems, romantic, financial, and strategic. One brilliant move deserved another.

“Marry me,” he said.

The Marriage Plot follows Mitchell, Madeleine’s best friend, to Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta, as well as tracking along with Madeleine and Leonard through Leonard’s bi-polar disorder and treatment and Madeleine’s attempts to find her way as a neo-victorian. It’s a great read, but not romantic.

member of the weddingThe Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

“They are the we of me.”

Remember in high school when you read about 12-year-old orphan Frankie Addams and how she believed she was going to run away with her sister, the bride, and her new husband? How superior you felt, as a mature 16-year-old, to the foolish child? How you felt sorry for the kid but thought she just needed to grow up? Or maybe that was just me.

Read The Member of the Wedding again for the beauty of the language and Carson McCullers illuminating thoughts about identity, society and isolation.

“She was afraid of these things that made her suddenly wonder who she was, and what she was going to be in the world, and why she was standing at that minute, seeing a light, or listening, or staring up into the sky: alone.” 

seating arrangements

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

It’s a summer wedding on a New England Nantucket-ish Island, and the WASPy Van Meters have gathered to honor daughter Daphne, about 7 1/2 months pregnant, with a wedding. Despite his obvious superiority, patriarch Winn Van Meter has been shunned by the island golf club and unremittingly tries to find a way in around the circus-like atmosphere of the wedding. Add a naughty bridesmaid with a daddy fixation, an escaped lobster, a recent abortion and a troubled aunt, and you have what the New York Times called “a smart and frothy debut novel.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/books/review/seating-arrangements-by-maggie-shipstead.html

It’s probably the funniest of the marriage books I’m discussing here, full of ironic humor: “This was truly advanced WASP: how to comfort a wronged wife and mother without acknowledging any misdeeds done or embarrassment caused by loved ones.” But that doesn’t lessen the intensity or passion or beauty of Shipstead’s writing.

A tiny light appeared, like a distant lighthouse, diffusing through the fog in a soft, pale sphere and then fading to something smaller, like a firefly. He had lit a cigarette. She was close enough that she could smell the tobacco and hear him take a drag. The firefly floated in a little curlicue, enticing her. Or maybe it was not a firefly but the bioluminous lure of an anglerfish, lighting the way to a set of nasty jaws. Maybe she had stumbled out of an ordinary night and into a benthic underworld. “Livia,” he sang again. “Livia, Livia.”

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwanON-CHESIL-BEACH-380x231

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

If there is a master of the novel in this 21st Century, by my reckoning it is McEwan. He of Atonement, Saturday, Amsterdam. And On Chesil Beach. This small book examines the first twenty-four hours of a marriage and the great misunderstanding in the honeymoon bed that has the potential to alter everything thereafter. I love this book and have given it as a gift on occasion. It is a masterpiece.

How did they meet, and why were these lovers in a modern age so timid and innocent? They regarded themselves as too sophisticated to believe in destiny, but still, it remained a paradoxto them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all. And in the first rush of love, they often wondered at how nearly their paths had crossed during their early teens, when Edward descended occasionally from the remoteness of his squalid family home in the Chiltern Hills to visit Oxford. It was titillating to believe they must have brushed past each other at one of those famous, youthful city events, at St Giles’ Fair in the first week of September, or May Morning at dawn on the first of teh month – a ridiculous and overrated ritual, they both agreed; or while renting a punt at the Cherwell Boat House – though Edward had only ever done it once; or, later in their teens, during illicit drinking at the Turl.

princess brideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman

I know! It was a book first! You’re picturing Billy Crystal: “Have fun storming the castle!” and Mandy Patinkin: “My name is Inigo Montoyo. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Maybe even the young and ethereally beautiful Robin Wright refusing Chris Sarandon’s marriage proposal yet again. (Yes, I’ve seen the movie a dozen times. Just like you.)

But William Goldman’s novel, published in 1973, was actually as important. Contemporaneous with Watergate, the OPEC oil embargo, a stock market crash, The Princess Bride offered a measure of hope. lhttp://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/28/american-dreams-1973-the-princess-bride-by-william-goldman.html

“I love you,’ Buttercup said. ‘I know this must come as something of a surprise to you, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.’ Buttercup still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. ‘I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now then when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and has other interests, while I am seventeen and for me there is only you. Dearest Westley–I’ve never called you that before, have I?–Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley,–darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.’ And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes.
So there you have it. Some of my favorite novels contemplating marriage. Now, I still need a photographer . . .
Happy Reading!