Published by Penguin on September 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
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3.5? A portrait of a marriage that is held together by what can never be said. The writing was overdone at times and the first half barely held my interest, but the second half makes it worth a read. Do not go into this one expecting a thriller.
…she saw on the Internet a video about what would happen to our galaxy in billions of years. We are in an immensely slow tango with the Andromeda galaxy, both galaxies shaped as spirals with outstretched arms, and we are moving toward each other like spinning bodies. The galaxies will gain speed as they near, casting off blue sparks, new stars, until they spin past each other. And then the long arms of both galaxies will reach longingly out and grasp hands at the last moment, and they will come spinning back in the opposite direction, their legs entwined but never hitting, until the second swirl becomes a clutch, a dip, a kiss. And then, at the very center of things, when they are at their closest, there will open a supermassive black hole.
Lotto and Mathilde are tall, beautiful people who both bear scars from their unconventional pasts. Within two weeks of meeting, they are married. Together they go from unexpected poverty to great fortune. Their marriage is relatively stable, but there are explosive secrets hidden under the surface.
“Firstly,” he said, “tell me the difference between tragedy and comedy.” Francisco Rodríguez said, “Solemnity versus humor. Gravity versus lightness.” “False,” Denton Thrasher said. “A trick. There’s no difference. It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing…”
The entire book felt like a theatrical performance, as if I was watching a mythic story unfolding. Fragmented sentences and the narrator’s bracketed insights added to the dramatic mood. The theatrical atmosphere helped the outlandish dramatics not seem so out of place. One the biggest hurdles for me with this book was the writing style, paragraphs laden with figurative language. About half the time I thought the writing was beautiful, but the other half I thought it was too distracting and self-indulgent. I had to read several passages a few times to see what the author was getting at and many times it seemed superfluous (“Moon a navel, light on the water a trail of fine hair leading straight to Lotto.”, “”Thoughts of Mathilde had become magnetic, rebounding off her, spinning outward, ending up hopelessly tangled in thoughts of an asian nymphet cooing at him in a schoolgirl’s kilt, as fantasies tended to. Tree branches gray slats above and moving polka dots of crows. Frantic motions in the groinal area until the inevitable upward spin and the slick in the palm.”)
Many of the characters have weighty names, heavy with historical and literary baggage. The only one that truly bothered me was the dog named God. Not because of any religious offense, but because he was named that way to create faux-deep sentences like these: “Mathilde would be alone in the house with God.” and “God grumbled at the door, having been banished.” For me, it had the same effect as nails on a chalkboard.
[The lives of others come together in fragments. A light shining off a separate story can illuminate what remained dark. Brains are miraculous; humans storytelling creatures. The shards draw themselves together and make something whole.]
The book is divided into two sections; Lotto’s section is Fates (three female deities who shaped people’s lives) and Mathilde’s section is Furies (female spirits of justice and vengeance). In terms of the type of couple, this Lotto and Mathilde reminded me a little of the couple in [book:The Time Traveler’s Wife|18619684]: the lives of childless, pretentious creative types, wife taking a backseat to the husband, and an abundance of sex scenes.
Like most deadly attractive people, he had a hollow at the center of him. What people loved most about her husband was how mellifluous their own voices sounded when they echoed back.
Lotto’s section was a real struggle to get through. His point-of-view is necessary, but it seems so long! It reads like a narcissist’s biography. We are told repeatedly how charming he is and how people are drawn to him, but he comes off as an empty vessel from the start. He floats through life, blissfully unaware of anything outside of his own head and is not cognizant of the “backstage manipulations” by the women pulling the strings in his life. I wish the author had tricked us into seeing the charms other saw from the very beginning. His section is a chore to slog through, both because of the writing and Lotto’s lack of substance. Mathilde hangs around in the background, keeping their lives running and pushing Lotto forward in his career. Lotto repeatedly calls Mathilde a “saint” and sees her mostly as an extension of himself rather than an individual. View Spoiler »This is a direct contrast to his infatuation with Leo Sen. « Hide Spoiler
Anger’s my meat; I sup upon myself, And so shall starve with feeding. Volumnia says this in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. She—steely, controlling—is far more interesting than Coriolanus. Alas, nobody would go to see a play called Volumnia.
Mathilde’s section is much more of a page turner. The author also tones down her writing style a little. In Furies, we learn that Lotto’s viewpoint is incomplete. Mathilde’s perspective fills in the gaps and adds context to events in Lotto’s life, but we also learn that many of her “truths,” even her feelings about herself, are just a matter of vision. (“Perhaps it was always there; perhaps it was made in explanation, but all along she had held within her a second story underneath the first, waging a terrible and silent battle with her certainty. She had to believe of herself that the better story was the true one, even if the worse was insistent.”) Lotto has his secrets, but Mathilde’s are far more calculating. Lotto does come off better in her section, like a harmless innocent who means well. I did get a sense of martyrdom from Mathilde, but the self-sacrifice rang false to me because she is very much in control of her story. (“Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage. The house in the country, the apartment in the city, the taxes, the dog, all were her concern: he had no idea what she did with her time. View Spoiler »It would have been compounded with children; thank goodness for childlessness, then. « Hide Spoiler“) View Spoiler »Mathilde’s flaw is that she believes she is inherently bad and and thinks she is undeserving of love or of someone as “pure” as Lotto. She is desperate to hang on to Lotto at any cost. She is probably right that being a blank slate with no attachments was a great part of her appeal to a narcissist like Lotto and we get a taste of that when one of her secrets comes to light. In the end her regret is that she couldn’t see herself as Lotto did and that she lived life as a “closed fist,” always ready to fight and push people away. « Hide Spoiler
It occurred to her then that life was conical in shape, the past broadening beyond the sharp point of the lived moment. The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and treasons that were nearly imperceptible when they happened stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.
Lotto, best lover ever, and Mathilde are very sexual. Sex is also both of their primary coping mechanisms. The sex scenes aren’t badly written or overly detailed, but there are so many that it gets repetitive to read about. Mathilde has a realization in the book that “silent intimacies made their marriage, not the ceremonies or parties or opening nights or occasions or spectacular fucks,” but when it comes to the marriage the author chooses to focus mostly on their sex life. (He does bring her coffee with milk every morning.) It was just hard for me to get a true sense of them as a couple, outside of sex. Even in sections outside of the marriage—So. Much. Sex. View Spoiler »With everyone, even the PI (who reminded me a little of Gene Parmesan from Arrested Development). The most stomach turning ones for me were Denton Thrasher and Land. « Hide Spoiler
“Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.”
The publisher’s summary says: “And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets.” White lies and keeping some fleeting, damaging thoughts to yourself are somewhat necessary to maintain a healthy relationship. However, the explosive secrets in Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage go way past that and I didn’t see their marriage as anything to aspire to. I had a difficulty seeing the brilliance and charm of Lotto, the small intimacies that made this particular marriage wonderful, and feeling sympathy for this particular invisible wife. I did enjoy the structure of the novel, the reveal of the dramatics that were happening outside of Lotto’s knowledge, and the interesting commentary on marriage. I think the comparisons to Gone Girl are misleading, because it sets an unrealistic expectation for what happens in the second half. Fates and Furies is not a thriller. If you like stories about the secrets between a married couple, you might also like A Small Indiscretion or Disclaimer. Those two books are a less literary than Fates and Furies, but they are more fun.
He would have liked to go deeper into her, to seat himself on the seat of her lacrimal bone and ride there, tiny homunculus like a rodeo cowboy, understand what it was she thought. Oh, but it would be redundant. Quiet daily intimacy had taught him. Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely; you do know someone entirely. He could sense the phrasing of the jokes she was about to tell, feel the goose bumps on her upper arms when she felt chilled.