September 2, 2016

Fates and Furies

Early in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a cat watches an outdoor dinner party, and we are privy to the cat’s thoughts of incredulity as it watches the humans react in shock to the falling of fat raindrops, a rainstorm the cat knew was coming by the smell in the air, many minutes before.

There are moments when I wonder what our cat is thinking as she stares at us, sometimes with curiosity and sometimes with confusion, as we go about our daily lives. Cleo, our kitten, is young, still; her desire to know everything we are doing and be a part of all the activity comes from her age and her youthful vibrancy. The narrative in her head, however, is unknown to us: what is she thinking when we leave for the office in the morning, when we settle in bed for the night? What thoughts pass through her mind when we fold the laundry, turn on the stove, or even scoop her litter box?

We will never know Cleo’s perspective on the world around her, because she will never be able to articulate them to us. All we can do, instead, is project our own impressions, build our own narrative of what her perspective may be—a narrative that is bound to be flawed, inaccurate. We will never know any better.

This, after all, is what Ms. Groff’s novel is all about: unknowable perspectives. Fates and Furies tells us the story of Lotto, a young man who grows up to be a renown playwright, upon whom fortune smiles for seemingly no reason, and Mathilde, his wife, working in the background—unknown to Lotto—to guide that fortune, to create the luck that seemingly naturally finds Lotto at every corner.

It is a novel in two parts, containing two distinct perspectives, two stories of the same life that could not be more different, but it is more than that. Fates and Furies is a book that reminds us that the narratives we create, for ourselves and for others, are pocked with spots, gaps and holes we will never fill. Even those closest to us live lives that are utterly unknowable.

I will never know what Cleo, our kitten, is thinking behind those large, bright eyes, but this should not be troubling. After all, none of us will ever know what resides in the minds, the histories, the experiences, of those we love, no matter how much we share. Ms. Groff captures that reality beautifully, if not somewhat dispiritedly, in Fates and Furies. Lives are lived together, but the stories of our lives are our own.

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