Well, my friends and fellow readers, we knew the day would come eventually: my first truly negative book review.
I set out to read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff in the month of May, after hearing several positive reviews via The New York Times Best Seller List. The book follows the marriage of seemingly perfect couple Lotto and Mathilde, exploring what it takes to make a marriage seem perfect. Supposedly, it is riveting contemporary fiction (a la Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train), but with more poetic prose and “literary” style.
I try to like every single book I read. I try to start new books with a positive mindset, because in the end my goal is to read more books and encourage other women to do the same.
That’s why Fates and Furies was especially disappointing, because even with all of that mental effort, I still couldn’t bring myself to like the characters or their storylines.
But first, let me mention some of the things I thought were good about the book, before I so thoughtfully destroy it.
1. The book’s brutally honest take on marriage was shocking and refreshing.
I’ve been married for five years. While we’re still madly in love and have a healthy, functioning partnership, I have no illusions about what a hard marriage may look like. Still, I have rarely (if ever) seen real, honest-to-God representations of these struggles portrayed in media. While sometimes things felt over the top, there were parts of the book in which Groff perfectly encapsulates the rarely-spoken-of dynamics of committing yourself to someone forever.
2. There were moments the (otherwise pretentious) prose truly succeeded.
The book uses flashy, sometimes obnoxiously flowery language that had me rolling my eyes way back into my head at least every other page. However, there were perhaps five or six times a particularly poignant paragraph just punched me in the gut. If the book could have been reworked to focus more on these elements, I feel as though it would have been much more successful.
One phrase in particular really caught me: “Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silence, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.”
3. That’s honestly all I’ve got. Now, on to the bad.
As I mentioned earlier, Groff uses prose that is bloated and overwritten so you can sense its desperation to be a literary masterpiece in every page. I’m all for a few fanciful descriptions here and there, but it’s hard to stay on board when greeted with asides such as this every few pages: “Her mother had smelled of cold and scales, her father of stone dust and dog. She imagined her husband’s mother, whom she had never met, had a whiff of rotting apples, although her stationery had stunk of baby powder and rose perfume. Sallie was starch, cedar. Her dead grandmother, sandalwood. Her uncle, Swiss cheese. People told her she smiled like garlic, like chalk, like nothing at all. Lotto, clean as camphor at his neck and belly, like electrified pennies at the armpit, like chlorine at the groin.”
Later on, a character contemplates the night sky, thinking “…there the moon was, glowering. Fickle, inconstant, that monthly changes in her circle orb.”
Paragraphs such as these would be tolerable if at the heart of it all were dynamic, likeable characters—but this is definitely not the case. In Gone Girl (which this book is often compared to because of the husband-to-wife shift in perspective halfway through) there were, at the very least, shreds of humanity in both main characters that helped you love to hate them.
In Furies, both Lotto and Mathilde are pretty reprehensible. Their world is one of wealth and extreme privilege and they stay completely unaware of this, behaving at (all times) as though their lives are the sun and the rest of the solar system simply revolves around them. It’s difficult for me to list clear examples of this without blatant spoilers, but I think their behavior makes that pretty clear from the start.
In my opinion, this book gets a hard no. There were too many major roadblocks in Furies to keep me from enjoying it.
But, like I said, it’s just my opinion—people I consider smarter than me say they love it. If you disagree completely with me, feel free to bash my judgment in the comments.
And what about June?
For the month of June, I am SO EXCITED to be reading The House on Mango Street.
I picked this book for a couple of reasons: It’s easy and light, the perfect read when hitting the pool or beach; it’s a classic I think a lot of us have heard of and want to read, but never got around to; and within its quick-to-read, enjoyable stories are lessons of feminism and what it means to be a woman coming of age in a world built for you to fail. I’m only two chapters in as I write this, but I have loved every page.
As always, reach out on Twitter or Instagram with #TheEverygirlReads if you want to chat all things literature.