10 of 19
Fates and Furies
400 pages; Riverhead Books
"Marry me!" Lotto drunkenly proposes the night they meet. Mathilde laughs and says sure. Or does she? No matter: Two weeks later, the 22-year-olds are wed.            

In her immersive, darkly playful third novel, Fates and Furies (Riverhead Books), Lauren Groff explores destiny, marriage, and female power by incorporating elements of Greek mythology into a modern, New York–centric plot. Big questions abound: How well can we know a spouse? Is it possible to orchestrate happiness, or is that up to chance?            

Lancelot—Lotto for short—is a failed actor and son of a millionaire widow. Mathilde, an enigmatic beauty, works at an art gallery to support them both until Lotto finds huge success as a playwright. They are the nexus of a glamorous swirl of friends, parties, sex, and art. But each harbors deep wounds. A godlike narrator takes pleasure in uncloaking both characters, chiming in on the action with cheeky asides.             

During the first half of the novel, "Fates," the spotlight is on Lotto and the blossoming of his gregarious, heart-on-his-sleeve personality. When he first sees Mathilde across a crowded room, the world stops. Their love, like his eventual success, seems inevitable.            

"Furies," the second half, mines Mathilde's startling history of abandonment, cunning, and illicit behavior. The reader relives, with delight and shock, events we have previously seen only from Lotto's perspective. We discover Mathilde's strength, "the dark whip at the center of her. How, so gently, she flicked it and kept him spinning."             

Their story is a storm you hope won't blow over: surprising, wild, with pockets of calm that build anticipation for the next squall. Their saga exposes the overlap between intentionality and inevitability. Groff scours her characters, laying them bare so questions of likability are moot. If, in the end, everyone is flawed, everyone also attains a kind of nobility.
— Kelly Luce