Category Archives: PTA Refugees

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

24612118Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is almost perfect. This compact novel first masquerades as a domestic drama, but about 50 pages in I realized there were too many layers to label it that.

Yes, it’s the story of a marriage. Lotto (short for Lancelot) and Matilde impulsively marry at the end of their senior year at Vassar. Lotto, the golden boy, shines off the page, capturing everyone with his magnetism. He’s rich, and almost handsome – but charming, and with enough sex appeal to seduce everyone he meets. Matilde is a strange beauty, mysterious and managerial, and it’s hard to tell if it’s out of devotion or obsession.

The first section of the novel is titled Fates. We hear the story from Lotto’s perspective, and he is indeed the hero of the story, the center of his own universe. He grows from adored son to big man on campus, struggling actor to world class playwright. Through Lotto, we see how lives are spun, measured and cut.

The second section is called Furies. This is Matilde’s show, all the way, and she is full of rage. Her story parallels Lottos’, but the differences will shock you. Parties that were lighthearted fun turn into thinly veiled hostile jousting matches. Friends are betrayers, parents fail, and Matilde makes her way in a world that doesn’t even want to acknowledge her – until she throws her lot in with Lotto.

The unadulterated rage is spectacular.

Groff uses a lot of allusion to Greek stories – fates and furies, most obviously – but the stories of Oedipus as well. And throughout the novel, a chorus comments on events, or adds details. There’s a ton of references, Greek, Homeric, and Shakespearean, to sort through, and I am sure I did not catch them all. The references add to the multi layered and epic, consequential feeling of this story. Like Odysseus and Penelope, Oedipus and Jocasta, the hidden parts of the Lotto and Matilde’s marriage are monumental.

So why do I feel that this novel is almost, but less than perfect? Well, mainly because while Lotto is the golden boy, sucking everyone in, I wasn’t charmed. He’s interesting in his narcissism, but ultimately, I didn’t care about him. And Matilde is much the same. Rather than having sympathy for the utterly horrible way her childhood played out, I read these scenes dispassionately, not feeling a strong sense of empathy for her. I wish I had felt more empathy for these characters.

Groff’s writing is astounding. Sentences loop around and amaze you with their beauty:

He was joking; he believed what he was saying. He thought of how the world without humans would be more briliant, greener, teeming with strange life, rats with opposable thumbs, monkeys in spectacles, mutant fish building palaces below the sea. How, in the grand scheme of things, it would be better without human witness anyway. (Fates and Furies, p.78)

Also impressive to read are the excerpts of Lotto’s plays. Groff has created a breathing, living character with creations of his own. And they are terrific – I would love to read more.

Fates and Furies is a compelling, layered story written in language that sings. Groff’s characters have secrets that keep you reading, even when they are not particularly likeable.


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Book Group Picks 2014


Next year’s books, beautifully wrapped.

I love my book groups. I’m proud to count myself a member of three – two face to face groups, and one online. I love the interaction with other readers, and I love the book choices that are often out of my comfort zone. Choosing books in a book group is also a fun part of the book group experience, and each of my book groups makes their picks differently.

My online group votes via Facebook poll for a book. The leader of the group selects the genre, and members of the group submit choices or vote on a book that another member suggested. It’s a very democratic and fun way to pick books. The only drawback to this method is that I find myself adding all the books in the poll to my reading list, not just the one chosen for the group read.


Unwrapping next year’s first book. And wine.

My Awesome Book Club is very lucky to have an Awesome Maven. Our Maven maintains a rotating list, letting each of the members know when it is their month to choose a book for the group. She does a terrific job keeping us straight, even when members swap months or change their minds about their book choice. This is also a very democratic method, and every member has a voice in the choices of the group. For the past few years, another member has created a lovely bookmark that lists all the books we read throughout the year. It’s a useful and creative souvenir of our year in books.

My PTA Refugees also uses the one member = one book approach, but the methodology is different. Each year, our December meeting is the designated annual book exchange. Each group member chooses, and purchases, a book they would like the group to read. We wrap our books in the most tantalizing way we can, hoping to entice another member. Some members adorn their wrapped books with little gifts for the receiver.


We all brought a dish to share, and this was dessert. Yes, it tasted as good as it looked – delicious.

Then we sit down with the wrapped books, and the evening’s host makes the first pick. Whoever wrapped the book that was chosen is the next person to pick, and so on, until all the books are unwrapped.  We read the books in order through the year.

In 2014, The PTA Refugees will be reading:

1.      The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2.      A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
3.      In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
4.      Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
5.      Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
6.      The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
7.      The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
8.      Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Does your book group have an interesting way to choose books? 

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Filed under AMBC books, Book Group, PTA Refugees