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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The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla


Garnet Ferrari refuses to believe that she can heal anyone. It’s just a coincidence that all of the heartbreaks of psoriasis, pustulating epidermis, and marred acne complexions she encounters are miraculously healed. “Saint Garnet,” she of the Sweetwater, West Virginia backcountry, is not responsible. Just ask her.

Marie Manilla’s Italo-Appalachian tale, The Patron Saint of Ugly, revolves around the Catholic Church’s canonization investigation of second-generation American Garnet Ferrari and Garnet’s frantic attempts to derail the Church’s efforts.  Garnet’s high-born Virginia mother meets and marries a working class Italian, much to the chagrin of both families. Garnet, her parents and her golden brother Nicky settle in Sweetwater, West Virginia, watched over by her paternal grandmother, the formidably capable, malocchio-fighting, superhero Nonna Diamante Ferrari whose voice is a frequent interrupter of Garnet’s narrative.

Though pilgrims world-wide claim to have been healed by Garnet, she herself is disfigured as described by the Vatican’s envoy, Archbishop Gormley:

The background tone of her flesh is pale, but the birthmarks decorating her skin are varying shades of purple: deep mulberry, magenta, the faintest mauve. It looks as if someone took a map of the world, cut out continents and islands, provinces and cantons, and glued them willy-nilly on Garnet’s body. I distinctly identified Alaska on her right cheek, the Aleutians trailing over her nose; Mongolia on one shoulder; Zaire on the other; Crete on her knee; Chile on her ankle; and many others. There is a kind of beauty in her birthmarks; God’s holy design is imprinted on her skin.

map of the globe

I had the pleasure of meeting and spending the better part of a week “porch-sittin and wine-sippin” with West Virginia-born, Italian-American, author Marie Manilla at the Hindman Settlement School Writers’ Workshop last August. I had an equal pleasure in reading Marie’s glorious novel, The Patron Saint of Ugly, shortly thereafter. It’s a fairy tale, a morality tale, a novel of Southern Gothic mysticism and Italian malocchio (evil-eye) enchantment and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It reminded me a good deal of Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom, another fantastic, tall-tale with a fascinating heroine.

fear of women

Nonna remembers when the neighbors got their first look at me. It was a fall afternoon when she and Mom tried out the new strollers.  Mom went first, pushing Nicky, with Nonna and me several paces behind. The hill women hand not seen their flaxen-haired boy in months, and they had never seen his cloistered little sister. They raced forward with offerings, their own children toddling beside them. “Where is our beautiful boy?” Gonna sputtering ptt-ptt-ptt. Next they veered toward me; Mom and Nonna hoped decorous manners would prevail.

They did not. When the women inspected me, their hands flew to their mouths. What’s wrong with her? Is she contagious?”

“Of course a-not!” Nonna said.

But the children bawled at the sight and ran home, chased by their mothers who slammed their doors, windows too, and then the drapes.

Kirkus Reviews compared it to Tristam Shandyhttps://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/marie-manilla/patron-saint-of-ugly/ As Nonna would said, “not a-bad. Not a-bad at all.”


I emailed Marie and told her I had planned to write about The Patron Saint of Ugly and she remarkably sent me her family recipe and some background which is integral to her work . . . and fascinating as well. I am MAKING THIS this weekend!

Grandma Conchetta

Marie Manilla’s Grandma Conchetta

I dedicated the novel to my grandmother, Concetta Ferrari Lapelle Manilla. Unfortunately, she died before I was born, but the family lore is that she escaped an arranged marriage back in Sicily by selling some of the family jewels and hopping a ship to America. This made her a hero to me. Her second husband was my Calabrian grandfather, a stone mason who lived in Huntington, West Virginia, where my father was born. It’s also my hometown. Apparently Grandma was a fabulous cook who, according to Grandpa Manilla, “Could even make shit taste delicious.” My mother lived with them for about a year after she and my father married. Mom remembers Concetta making pasta by hand and draping it over the dining room chairs to dry. As soon as the men left for work and the breakfast dishes were cleared, Concetta would say in broken English: “Now it’s-a time to start cooking the supper,” which always included a side serving of pasta. Concetta never wrote any of her recipes down, so when she died, her recipes went with her—except for her spaghetti sauce, which my father used to make once a year. It was a grand and sacred production. He never wrote the recipe down either, but Mom watched him make it enough that she recounted it for me as best she could. It’s very simple, and I can still remember the smell and distinctive taste. No one has made it in its pure form since my father died in 1993, though some of us have tried, often adding additional spices and meats, though the flavor is never quite the same.

Concetta’s (and Dad’s) Spaghetti Sauce

4 pounds of beef short ribs (as opposed to pork ribs, which are more commonly used)

6 cans of Contadina Tomato Paste


Salt and pepper

Brown the beef short ribs in two big spaghetti pots Add salt and pepper Add Contadina Tomato Paste Fill pots to the brim with water Simmer for two days—two days!—until the water reduces, the sauce thickens, and the meat is falling from the bones. Serve over pasta with garlic bread, a salad, and plenty of red wine.

I would serve this spaghetti sauce with good bread, several bottles of Italian red wine (http://www.winemag.com/August-2014/5-Summer-Italian-Reds/) and a lovely cheesecake for dessert.


Once again, Marie provided the soundtrack to her writing process which will make a fabulous soundtrack for your book club’s discussion of The Patron Saint of Ugly. Heck, it’s a fabulous soundtrack for day-to-day living as far as I’m concerned!

While I was writing the novel, the soundtrack playing in my head included Italian-American singers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Tony Bennett, and Rosemary Clooney. When I had my Patron Saint launch party I bought CDs of all of these singers. My Italian-American husband suggested I also include Italian singer, Domenico Modugno, whom his Italian grandparents adored.

Here’s a selection of particular favorites:

Frank Sinatra: “I’ve got the World on a String” (for Garnet—my globe-speckled narrator) and “Witchcraft” for Nonna’s belief in the Evil Eye and Le Strega—the witch who lives atop Garnet’s hill.

Dean Martin: “That’s Amore” and “Volare.”

Rosemary Clooney: “Come On-A My House” and “Mambo Italiano.”

Domenico Modgno: “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” and “O Sole Mio.”

Louis Prima: “Just a Gigolo,” “Oh Marie” (for me), and “Angelina” (for my mother-in-law).

Tony Bennett: “Stranger in Paradise” and “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”


Garnet — Emma Stone

Nonna Diamante — Christina Hendricks (Don’t get mad at me. She needs to be able to play Diamante as a young woman too!)

Dominick Ferrari — Steve Buscemi/Frankie Muniz

Angelo Ferrari — Armand Assante/Mark RuffaloPatron Saint Cover 65

La Strega — Jessica Lange

Read it. You’ll LOVE IT. Happy Reading and Eating!