After a while, if you’ve read enough good books, you begin to approach them the way a chef eats in someone else’s restaurant, trying to discern the content of each dish. How could I make this? you think, savoring every bite. You pick out the garlic, the onions, a dash of thyme….
Not long into Lauren Groff’s novel FATES AND FURIES, I detected some James Joyce, who in Ulysses brings us the voice of a button (“Bip!”) and an intensive focus on time (let’s just call it a very full day). Groff early on shares the point of view of a neighbor’s cat (“Confusing, these people lounging around their food like enormous cats sated from the kill”) and tumbles through time in a succession of quick scenes—parties from year to year in the same basement apartment—in a way that also brings to mind plays such as Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, for example, in which a set of friends meet annually around the holidays and we watch their lives spin through time. Plays are, indeed, one focal point of this book: Lotto, the husband in this headlong tale of marriage, fails as an actor and becomes a successful playwright. Meanwhile his wife, Mathilde, whose secrets are uncovered largely in the second half of the book, does more than he will ever know to support his work.
To continue the tasting: the internal monologues evoke Virginia Woolf, and we find more than a sprinkle of poetry in Groff’s beautifully-crafted sentences: a minor character’s death, reported as “Ski tumble; embolism,” reminded me of the Billy Collins poem “Picnic, Lightning,” which itself was a reference to Lolita (“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.”). Page after page, there is more to admire and absorb.
All of this is to say that if you love literature, FATES AND FURIES is absolutely delicious.