It took me more than thirty minutes to get through the first three pages of Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff’s outstanding and powerful new novel about love and marriage. Thirty minutes. Don’t blame me, blame Raymond Carver. A huge fan since high school, I’m used to reading about love at Carver’s dimly lit, gin-washed table where the language is spare and deft. But this, Groff’s third novel, this is something else, something new with a style that is sober and rich, exhaustive and dazzling. It floored me. I read those first pages again and again.
Now, don’t mistake my enthusiasm for surprise. Though this was my first Groff novel, I’ve known her (and her sizable talent) through her short fiction. There, I’d admired Groff for her ability to gracefully navigate the huge, intricate worlds she created. In Fates and Furies, that same talent is on display again but to an even greater extent, as she takes the ideas and problems and joys of married life and weaves it into a mythology that is at once larger than life and life itself. We consider Raymond Carver a master for the telescopic way he shows us relationships—boiling the expansive complexities of love down to a few, quiet moments. Groff, then, should be considered masterful in her microscopic treatment of the same themes. She takes one relationship between two people, blows it up to one hundred times its size, and puts it on parade.
Fates and Furies succeeds on Groff’s great understanding for her characters. The novel is divided into two separate parts, told from husband’s and wife’s respective perspectives. While I hesitate to say that the two sides are in opposition, they are in a deep, unmistakable and unspoken conflict from the opening pages (I would know, I read them eight to ten times…). Groff spins her characters on a tightening string between her fingers so gracefully that light hits each of them equally from every angle. It is the shadow that light creates however, and not the light itself, that shines the brightest in Fates and Furies. The two perspectives magnetize and come together in as many places as they repel—the result a haunting, ethereal look at how marriage and life together can change and, of course, never change us.
For all it’s brilliance, Fates and Furies should be celebrated most for its deep empathy for the human condition. Lauren Groff knows our secrets. She knows what we want most and she knows how we succeed and how we fail in attaining it. She knows how our choices and our relationships destroy and create us. Fates and Furies is a truly absorbing book; a book not unlike marriage itself: one that dares us to look inside each other— to look inside ourselves—and promises, for better or for worse, to still be there once we’re through.