I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction. I find it depressing, usually. Why are the characters always so desperate, and desperately unhappy? Why do they always have such depressing, gross sex lives, and why, WHY must books of literary fiction always contain a description of just how unappealing the protagonist’s body is? I mean, I live in a human body. I’m aware that most human bodies are very flawed. Do I have to read about Lotto’s stomach flab, and the way Mathilde’s finger can fit in his belly button up to her second knuckle? Why are Mathilde’s BO and Lotto’s bad skin of such profound interest to the author? I understand that the “golden couple” needs to be humanized, and I don’t think the characters in the books I read all need to be attractive, but these are details I can live without. I feel like authors of literary fiction equate “humanize” with “strip the character of dignity.” Most of all, why must literary fiction just be so depressing? Do people really enjoy the misery and drudgery that’s always on display?
I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have even read Fates and Furies. I don’t read much literary fiction for exactly these reasons, but I thought this one might be different, with the amount of praise and attention it’s getting. It’s an interesting book, to be sure, and I do love the idea that even after living with someone for half a lifetime, there is so much about them that is unknowable. To be fair to Lauren Groff, she does a great job of exploring that, and the book absolutely held my interest. Mathilde and Lotto’s marriage is fascinating, and I liked seeing it from both sides, and learning more about Mathilde and why she turned out the way she did. I actually liked Mathilde, and I’m not sure I was supposed to.
The main issue I have with this book, beyond all the general complaints above (which mainly amount to me not wanting to be depressed by what I’m reading), is that it made me angry to read about the way Mathilde basically devoted all of her considerable intellect and energy to organizing Lotto’s world. I realize that this is the norm in many couples, and this dichotomy might even be necessary in couples where one partner is a creative type. I was mainly just infuriated that Lotto sailed through their life together, collecting accolades and adoration, and meanwhile Mathilde gets the nickname, “Dragon Wife.” This is not really a criticism of Groff, it’s mainly that I see enough of this in my day to day that I don’t want to read about it in my free time.
I guess that’s my main problem with this book, and most literary fiction. Reading is something I enjoy, and I want it to be fun. Literary fiction isn’t fun. Fates and Furies isn’t fun.