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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

How much do reviews matter when you choose a book? I always peek at them, but are they really helpful in judging whether or not I’ll like a book? I’m not so sure.

Fates and Furies is one of those books that isn’t for everyone. I read it for my book club, so I didn’t decide to read it based on its reviews. In fact, I think this kind of books is particularly difficult to judge from its reviews since its characters are flawed and not always particularly likeable. The book was definitely for me, but I’m not sure I would have found that out through reading the reviews.

It’s a story about marriage, love, and the emotional complexity of being together for 24 years. At times, it’s dense and skimmable; at times, it’s a page-turner.

Groff’s book follows the lives of two imperfect people, Mathilde and Lotto. The story progresses over the years, peeling away at layers and layers of their marriage, first from Lotto’s perspective (generally) and then from Mathilde’s. They are both bared slowly, leaving us to understand just how much their love for each other shaped each of their lives. The book is certainly not a romance, but it’s a love story.

As a romance writer, the book gave me pause. These are certainly not characters I’d want to know in the real world, and they don’t fit the models for romance hero and heroine. And yet their relationship has enough strength, love, lust and emotional complexity to give any romance a run for its money. They love each other the best way they know how, which is, in the end, the foundation for a romance.

When I peeked at Goodreads and on Amazon, I couldn’t help but noticing this book is not universally loved—and that’s putting it kindly. Why? What makes this bestseller so polarizing?

Maybe it’s all the sex? Here’s a quote from an eye-catching Amazon review:

“...the book was full of sex between man & wife. Too much sex. Maybe I am just envious. But this does not seem to realistic that the couple had sex all the time for 30 years.”

Oh no! My husband and I have only been together for 16 years, but I really hope this reviewer is not right.

Or maybe it’s the dense and sometime pretentious prose that’s dragging people down. Like, for example, during the snippets of Lotto’s plays. But I personally can forgive (read: skim) a little pretense if I’m going to be rewarded with gems about marriage like these:

“Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste.”

... or ...

“He knew her; the things he didn’t know about her would sink an ocean liner; he knew her.”

After reading the book, the review that resonates the best for me is buried far down Amazon’s list, nothing that I would have seen if I weren’t particularly interested in how this books was received. It’s short and to the point:

“This is currently my favorite book of all time. I highly recommend for anyone who thoroughly enjoys romance novels, but is weary of Nicholas Sparks-type books, and appreciates allusions to some of the best literary works of humankind.” - Jenna

Yep. That’s me.

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