I know there are some legitimate issues with this book, but I’m giving it five stars for its pure ambition and energetic writing. I was quite reluctant to read this, actually, because I couldn’t get through Groff’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton (I should mention that I started it when I was 36 weeks pregnant, so my attention span was not tip top). After seeing this one so consistently on the must-read lists for 2015, I picked it up at the library and couldn’t put it down.
This is a story told from two distinct perspectives. The first and longer part of the book (Fates) is from the point of view of Lotto, the husband. He’s a golden child, extremely privileged, destined for achievement. Although his acting career fails to take off, he eventually becomes a successful playwright. The second part of the book (Furies) is seen through the eyes of Mathilde, Lotto’s wife. Mathilde is a mysterious presence throughout Lotto’s side of the story; she supports him when he is an out-of-work actor and later gives up her career to manage his. During the Lotto section, I wondered if she was good or evil and I was eager to get to her side of the story. Her part fills in all the blanks, but I think it’s also where the book goes off the rails a bit. Her backstory is so tragic and Dickensian, really, that it didn’t exactly fit in the same reality as the Lotto story. Also, the last few pages are like one revelation after the other and it gets unwieldy and pulled me out of the story. At the same time, I was honestly blown away by how tightly woven the story was and how much the author set out to accomplish.
Beyond the ambitious plot and structure of the story, the actual language is so fresh and kinetic. I tend to prefer tight, unelaborate prose. I’m not a fan of flowery language. But, truly, the writing here is gorgeous. One of the interesting aspects is that Groff liberally inserts the narrator’s voice into the action, especially in the Fates section. It sounds gimmicky and I think it was a risky choice, but it works. It was basically like a Greek chorus, fitting with the fates and furies theme.
I had heard that this was a book about marriage, but personally, I didn’t read it as an allegory on marriage as a whole. I get that you never fully know a person, but Lotto and Mathilde were so extreme that it didn’t occur to me to extrapolate their relationship to ordinary marriages like my own. Rather, I enjoyed the theme of privilege – how some people expect the world to give them so much, how they may attribute their successes to their own innate goodness when it’s actually something else entirely, how the creative side of the partnership may only succeed at the direct expense of the pragmatic side.
My conclusion = not perfect, but absolutely worth reading.