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September 25, 2015

An Evening with Lauren Groff, Author of FATES AND FURIES


As one of this season's most highly anticipated novels, Lauren Groff's FATES AND FURIES is everywhere. I received my copy last week and since then I've seen copies on the subway, in coffeehouses and even in a few restaurants. Focusing on the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, FATES AND FURIES offers readers to wildly different perspectives of a shared relationship over the course of two decades. The novel begins as a very straightforward tale of a failed actor and evolves into a sort of dark fairytale full of entwined narratives and segments that read like plays. Since there is so much to discuss with Groff's novel, I was eager to attend her book party at BookCourt in Brooklyn, NY. 

With book in hand, I arrived at BookCourt Wednesday evening, just as readers were mingling and enjoying the complimentary drinks and snacks. Rather than the usual wine and cheese, the FATES AND FURIES party featured a beautiful cake inspired by the book. The description of the cake follows: "Two layers of white cake flavored with ylang ylang (sensual; sex) and orange zest (Lotto), filled with crème pâtissière (Mathilde), and frosted with wedding-white buttercream. On top sits a tangled ball of caramelized spun sugar threads (a nod to the Furies and the Fates). The cake rests on a hand-thrown Ocean platter by artist Helen Levi." Needless to say, it was exquisite --- and delicious!

As Lauren took the stage, her dynamic personality immediately captured the audience. To put it simply, she is absolutely adorable. She read two chapters, one from Lotto's perspective and one from Mathilde's, though she was very careful not to give away too much. 

When Lauren began talking about her writing process, she happily admitted that she is still fairly new to writing and wants to see what she can and can't do. The play excerpts of FATES AND FURIES, for example, were a fun experiment for her, as she had to subtract so much of her normal writing process. She also spoke of the two sides of FATES AND FURIES, explaining that while Lotto's tale was fairly straightforward, Mathilde's offered her a chance to punctuate Lotto's story by telling it differently. Lauren also reported that she reads constantly while she writes, and was inspired by reading The Iliad --- "the most perfect piece of literature on the planet" --- while writing FATES AND FURIES. 

Given the structure of her novel, Lauren was asked several questions about her parenthetical elements and pacing. With regards to the parenthetical asides, she explained that most stories are told "horizontally," but she wanted to see the vertical side as well. Her editor was an integral part of this process, helping Lauren to parse out each element using a graph. 

As far as her pacing, Lauren explained that she skipped several years of Lotto and Mathilde's 24 year marriage, as she felt it was important to only tell the most momentous stories. She grasped these moments using an overhead view rather than writing alongside her characters. In doing so, she humorously explained, she is certain that she missed a few key moments of her characters' lives, but she had to let these moments go in order to tell the story. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren after her talk and found her positively charming. She was happy to answer a few of my own questions as she signed and we had a wonderful conversation. As I was only halfway through FATES AND FURIES at the time of the party, I am excited to see how her talk will inform and enrich my reading.