Fates and Furies is a book by Lauren Groff in two parts. Lotto and Mathilde meet one night at a party while attending Vassar. After a whirlwind affair, they get married. This post is full of spoilers. For a review, go here.
Fates – Lotto’s side of the story
Lotto was named the Lancelot by his mom, but his aunt paternal aunt Sallie made a point to shorten the name to Lotto. He grew up and lived in a huge plantation house in Hamlin until his father suddenly passed away when he was 13. After that, he suddenly got popular with girls.
One year later, his mother sold the water company for millions of dollars and moved Lotto and his baby sister Rachel, who was born after his father died, to a small house in Florida.
Lotto had trouble making friends until he was accepted into a group of misfits. In particular, the twins Gwennie and Chollie became his friends. He would loiter around town with them, do drugs, drink and attend parties. Gwennie was the first person he had sex with. The last time they had sex was on a roof of a house during a party. The house caught on fire and the firemen and their classmates watched them in the act until they jumped off the roof. They were arrested; Lotto was sent to boarding school and Gwennie became an outcast at a school, branded a slut.
Lotto spent his time homesick and sad at boarding school. He thought of ways to commit suicide, finally deciding to use the principal’s gun after spotting it in his office. When he goes to do so, he finds another boy who’d hang himself.
Soon after that, Lotto discovered theatre, a way to escape his world for another. Also, he made a friend, Samuel, and he went to Samuel’s home for holidays. Lotto was never allowed home but Sallie and Rachel visited him. His mother had gotten quite overweight and never came, not even for his graduations.
In sophomore year, Chollie showed up in Lotto’s room. Gwennie had overdosed and so Chollie had run away. Chollie got his education that way, auditing classes in even when Lotto went to university, although not registered as a student. No one reported him even though Chollie wasn’t likeable because they liked Lotto.
Learning of Gwennie’s death, Lotto began “the era of women”, engaging in as much sex as he could. That summer, his mother suggested he come home for the summer and he declined. Sallie took he and Rachel to Montreal for Christmas but his mother didn’t come.
Blossoming at Vassar
Lotto only applied to Vassar because of an excellent party there. Sallie and Rachel attended his graduation.
His charisma and beauty made him popular with girls with a steady stream into his room. His roommates amused themselves by taking notes on the women. Lotto did not bring the men home.
Lotto avoided relationships until he met Mathilde. Chollie felt threatened by their relationship, as if he was losing Lotto, but there was little he would do about their whirlwind love affair. Weeks later, they were married.
Antoinette did not approve of Mathilde so she cut off Lotto from his allowance. They eked by living in a cheap basement apartment. Rachel would collect her allowance and leave it for Mathilde to find whenever she visited. Lotto had a few small parts but mostly spent his time in tryouts and waiting for callbacks. She eventually got a job at a gallery to support them.
From Actor to Playwright
Drunk one night, Lotto wrote a play. Mathilde saw that it was good and encouraged him to put it on. Mathilde played the role of muse or puppeteer. The critics, except one, loved him and this started his career as a playwright. Mathilde used the critic to push Lotto to put on play after play, to search for the one that would turn the critic into fan.
Lotto thrived on company and adoration and was mostly loved by people. His fame grew and the parties continued; their close friends from university continuing to show up.
On a trip back from Osaka, an impatient passenger pushed Lotto down the airplane’s stairs and he broke his leg. By then, they had an apartment in the city and a house in the country. They moved to the latter for Lotto to recover. Without his adoring fans and work to keep him busy, Lotto gained weight and got depressed. This continued until Mathilde took him to a performance where he watched a play with music composed by Leo Sen and became energized. He decided he needed to work with Leo Sen.
The Artists Retreat
After months of sending mail to Leo Sen, asking for a collaboration, Lotto finally heard from him. He telephoned and they arranged to meet at an artists’ retreat. Lotto is surprised by how young Leo is but is also captivated by his talent.
Leo is so captivated that he skips Thanksgiving with his family. He was supposed to go home for the night, a party planned. He told Mathilde he would be home for Christmas. He was consumed by his work, the collaboration and would forget to call Mathilde for days.
After weeks of working together, Leo composed the aria for the opera. Lotto thought the music was too sweet, not at all what he had in mind. His expression as he listened gave away his thoughts even though he tried to hide them with his words. Leo kicked him out of his apartment. When Lotto returned the next day, Leo was gone, along with the composition.
Lotto returned home to Mathilde. He wouldn’t show her what he’d created with Leo, but she found it and read it anyway.
The Big Reveal
Lotto and Mathilde attended a party at Ariel’s gallery to celebrate the work of a friend posthumously. Chollie orchestrated an accident to get Ariel, the owner of the gallery, alone with Lotto. Lotto discovered that he had had an affair with Mathilde for 4 years. He didn’t confront her about it but he withdrew, grew short and cold with her. They’d been together for 23 years and he’d always thought that she was a virgin when they met. Instead, he finds out that she had been a kept woman by Ariel.
This part ends with a hallucination. Lotto is back at his mother’s house. She’s dead and his aunt Salle has gone off to travel the world. In his hallucination, he’s exploring the house, his mother’s room, trying to find money to get home. Nothing is as it should, with the sea frozen. He travels between his childhood homes, speaks to his father and mother. His mother, surprisingly, does not approve of him living his wife. Lotto wants to get back to Mathile but can’t, not by imaging her deeply, not by swimming. He floated when he was tired and had a vision of his mother as he knew her when she was younger, before she put on all the weight. As she bares her body to him, he realizes that they are separate. She hugged him to provide some comfort.
He has no concept of time but finds himself at the shore. He goes to the pink house and watches a young couple appears on the beach. It is he and Mathilde, when they were first married. The end comes before there is time to appreciate the beauty of the moment.
Furies – Mathilde’s Side of the Story
In this second part of the book, we follow Mathilde’s story. She grew up in a poor family in a village in France. Jealous of her baby brother when she was 4 years old, she either let him fall down the stairs or she kicked him so that he fell down the stairs and was seen doing so by her cousin. She does not know which version is right but thinks it’s the latter based on how her family treated her after that. Either way, he died from the fall. Her mother wanted to take her home but her father said no. In the end, they left her with her grandmother and never returned to see her. At 5 or 6, her paternal grandmother sent her to live with her maternal grandmother in Paris, where she slept in a closet. She could her her grandmother with various men at night. Finally, at 11, she is sent to live with her uncle in America.
Mathilde’s uncle provides for her but remains emotionally detached from her. At school, the kids teased her, calling her orally, and this is when she becomes Mathilde. Born Aurelie, she took on a new identity. This new person was tough rather than meek and stood up for her. When the teacher wasn’t looking, she hurt the other kids until they feared her and left her alone.
At her uncle’s house, her care is mostly provided by the driver. She has her own room, living in a house with many locked doors. Once, she entered one of those rooms; the door hadn’t been shut properly, and say a beautiful painting.
As high school ended, her uncle let her know that he would not pay for university; she would have to make her own way. He suggested modeling may be an option. She went to the city on the weekend to try to find a job and realized it would not be easy. She’s approached by an older gentleman who offers to pay her to be available to him on weekends. She bargains for her to pay tuition and take care of her during her four years of university. A few days later, he agrees.
Bidding Her Time
Mathilde is humiliated by Ariel and has to submit to him on weekends. This is the agreement she’s made. As graduation nears, he encourages her to work for him at his gallery. Instead, she aims for Lancelot Satterwhite. She’d heard some girls talking about him in the bathroom, that he came from a wealthy family.
The Plan in Motion
Mathilde created a plan to capture Lotto. She went to a party where she knew he would be and befriended the girl who he was sleeping with, who thought they were dating. She got the girl drunk so that she would have to go home. Then she put herself in Lotto’s path. They were both attracted to each other, and he jokingly proposed to her. She said no then, but yes three weeks later.
Mathilde, in keeping with her agreement with Ariel, did not sleep with Lotto until school was out. She met Ariel one final time to tell him she was done with him. Unknown to her, Chollie had followed her that day. He’d planned to tell Lotto but seeing Lotto and Mathilde together, he thought that he might lose his friend. Instead, he decided to save the information for another day.
Lotto and Mathilde got married secretly. When Lotto told his mother, she gave him an ultimatum; she would cut off his allowance if he went ahead with this plan. She also called Mathilde and offered her money to leave Lotto alone. Through the years, Antoinette and Mathilde would wage a war. Mathilde would keep Lotto from visiting Antoinette and Antoinette would call Mathilde and send her letters, telling her how unworthy she was of Lotto. Although Lotto talked to his mother and eventually started video chatting with her every week, Mathilde avoided every meeting Antoinette. Their war happened around Lotto; he remained oblivious to it.
The Early Years
Mathilde and Lotto lived in a basement apartment, and barely scraped by. Mathilde handled all the bills and finances; Lotto remained oblivious. When they were running out of funds, Mathilde went to Ariel’s gallery and got a job from him. She kept the relationship professional.
Lotto was getting depressed about acting, and Mathilde was getting exasperated. Before she could push Lotto to do something different, he wrote a play one night. Waking up early, she found the play and edited it without telling him. Since he’d been drunk when he wrote it, he never knew that she’d made changes. When no one would put on Lotto’s play, she blackmailed her uncle to do so. She’d discovered that the artwork she’d accidentally seen at his home was a stolen work.
While the play was still being put on, her uncle’s lawyer contacted her. He’d been killed in a carjacking and had left his money to a home for indigent mothers but had left her a collection of antique Japanese eoritca. Although Mathilde pretended not to know who Aurelie was, the collection was delivered to her door anyway. She sold the books and bought Lotto a watch, without him ever knowing where the money came from.
Mathilde and Lotto were married 23 years. Her secrets remained hidden from him. He never knew her past and believed her an orphan. She had an abortion and sterilised herself early in their marriage. Her neighbor, Bette, who was a bit psychic and could sense things, had seen her one day and brought her to her apartment. Bette drove her to her appointment and was her only friend independent of Lotto.
The Married Years
Mathilde and Lotto balanced each other. She was a housewife and took care of all his affairs. He wrote plays and received any praise as his due. Once, he was on a panel and talked about women being less creative because of motherhood. He also told a story of growing up as a lonely child. Mathilde walked out and left him behind, returning to their hotel. He hid out in the restroom because everyone thought him a misogynist, and he walked back for hours to the hotel; he had no money because he didn’t like the way a wallet changed the line of his clothing. It wasn’t until he got home that he found out the story that he’d told was Mathilde’s. He had consumed her.
Both Mathilde and Lotto were faithful in their marriage. They loved each other. But Mathilde was still part Amelie. After Lotto didn’t come home for Thanksgiving, she went to Bangkok, thinking about if he took her for granted. After only a few days, she returned home. Sitting at the table, she heard Lotto return and enter the house, and made him wait before acknowledging him and welcoming him home. She didn’t want to hear anything about Leo Sen so she kept him from talking until he was too tired to talk, and the moment of wanting to share had passed.
Mathilde regularly researched Leo after the retreat. Shen she found out that he had died of suicide, she got the paper and saved it. On Christmas morning, she placed in in a spot where Lotto was sure to notice while waiting for Rachel and her family to arrive. She watched from upstairs while he read it, saw him go white. She made eye contact with him but offered no comfort. Again, she’d orchestrated events so that she wouldn’t have to talk to him about Leo; his family arrived at that moment. Mathilde knew that Lotto had fallen a bit in love with the creative genius of Lotto and she did not appreciate being forgotten during that time when they worked together at the retreat.
Lotto died suddenly, alone up in his office. Mathilde found him and called his family and friends with the news. They descended on the house but she turned inwards. She grieved, talking to no one, eating nothing. Eventually, she tried to find solace from random men but that didn’t help.
Mathilde was mostly successful at avoiding anyone although Sallie and Rachel would not stop checking on her. Chollie also snuck up on her one day. He came to gloat, to tell her what he’d done, to make sure she knew why Lotto had been distant the last months of his life. This awakened the darkness in her.
Mathilde hired a private investigator to dig everything she could on Chollie. There was a lot. She broke up his marriage by sending his wife a picture of him at an orgy. Then, she contacted the FBI to share his other activities.
One day, she got a visitor, a young man named Land. She thought he was a fan of Lotto, a young actor. He was a star on “The Starrs in Your Eyes” and did plays in the summer.
Land and Mathilde slept together and he left her a note in the fruit basket before leaving the next morning. The note went unread until later, until after she got a visit from Rachel and Sallie. They brought a file on her, one Antoinette had compiled with her past. They had read it and knew about her uncle and Ariel. They also told her that Lotto had had a son by Gwennie, and Antoinette arranged the child’s adoption. She helped Gwennie “run away” and provided for her care until the baby was born and given up for adoption. Then Gwennie returned home. Her father and brother kept an eye on her most of the time, but when they were not looking she commited suicide with a handful of pills.
Mathilde was amazed that the two women still loved her after knowing some of her dark past. She burned the box of information she was going to give to the FBI. Let them do their own investigation. That would give Chollie and his nephew a few months at least whiile the FBI conducted their own investigation.
Mathilde went back to visit France alone, after Lotto died. She drove to her parents house and saw a younger version of her father. She also drove past her grandmother’s house. She talked to the major and arranged for her lawyers to buy her parents’ land. Once that was done, she cleared out the land, leaving nothigng standing behind.
The Powers that Be
There is a third voice in this book, the omniscient one. It speaks in square brackets to provide some background information at times, the truth if such exists.
How Fates and Furies Ends
Mathilde spent her last decades in London. When she dies, Chollie shows up at her flat soon afterwards to try to find the original manuscript of Lotto’s first play, The Springs. He did not find it as Land had stolen it years ago after sleeping with Mathilde. Chollie took the three books that Mathilde had written. Mathilde is old looking out the window in London. As she reflects on her life, she thinks of her marriage, how it was made of the small daily intimacies, and not the parties or big events. It was in the routine. She has no regrets except one, that she had let more people in. She should have said yes to Lotto that very first night.