The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Two

The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Two

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff vs Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

I was excited to read Fates and Furies. I’d heard a lot about the book which was on almost every “best of” list and I was interested in the conceit and how Groff pulled it off, but the truth is that once I sat down with it...I was unimpressed.

So the book is told in the third person, but the first half of the book is from the point of view of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite (no seriously, that is his name) and the second half from the pov of his wife Mathilde. It’s a story about marriage, both unreliable narrators, the book will be able the ways that their perspectives overlap and contradict and it’s a good premise. The problem is that the first half is boring. It is a slog. I have had numerous people tell me they gave up and wanted to punch the main character (in fact all three people–male and female–said they wanted to punch him in the face). I can understand; I wanted to as well. I found him dull and insufferable and annoying.

The second half of the book reveals that what Lotto thought was luck and talent and happenstance was in fact due to Matilde’s engineering. She wasn’t just the long suffering wife who worked while he tried to be an actor and then stood by him and took care of whatever while he wrote. No, she would rewrite his plays into what they are. She arranged for the funding for his first production. He wanted children but she had herself sterilized so that he would focus on his work. She would threaten and manage and oversee his productions and his life. She also set her eyes on him while he thinks they met by accident and they fell for each other at first glance.

He’s Vladimir and she’s his Vera. The problem is that he’s too stupid to realize that he needs a Vera–or that he has one!

I should also add that Lotto’s background is crazy. Like insane melodrama crazy. Which I’m okay with. And Mathilde’s story is even crazier. Like an entire season of Empire crazy. The way that works though is to have a sense of humor about it and wink at the reader (or viewer) to say, yes, we know it’s over the top, sit back and enjoy the ride. Fates and Furies is a pretty humorless book. It has a lot of extreme situations but there’s a little humor and most of the characters are not grotesques so by the end I’m just exhausted with them.

Another reason the book annoyed me because I went to Vassar - where many of the characters attended - and I knew people like this. Wealthy white people who aren’t stupid, they’re just uncurious to the point of cluelessness about a lot of life. I think that such people run a lot of the world. I think we’ve had Presidents who fit this description. I think a lot percentage of what’s wrong with the world is due to people like this.

Bats of the Republic I also found unsatisfying, but maybe it was coming into it cold and not knowing what to expect, I enjoyed it more. It’s not a funny book, but take a look at the design, examine the dust jacket (that alone is worth some time), the excerpts of multiple books included in the volume, the handwritten letters which are reproduced, the drawings. As a design nut and as an art and comics fan, I was on board.

The story itself is eh, to be honest, and the characters are there to serve the story. It’s about an 1843 expedition to Texas by a naturalist who is delivering a letter and one of his descendants in 22nd Century Texas. I am so tired of post-apocalyptic tales. Truthfully I was far more interested in the 19th century expedition and his coming across many of the creatures we know so well for the first time with such wonder.

That’s of course me. I’m sure lots of people will be far more interested in the futuristic society and the complex plot going on there. I should also mention that a lot of the records have been lost in the future so a lot of what is being relied upon as “fact” or “possible fact” is fiction–the books being excerpted. Which is another way of saying it’s a very complex book. I enjoyed that, although, sometimes I just didn’t care about some of the threads and connections.

I’m sure some will say that Fates and Furies is melodrama and Bats of the Republic is a strange fantastic formally inventive tale, so which one prefers depends on how one prefers those types of books. I can’t really disagree. I didn’t love either, but...

My Winner: Bats of the Republic

Meanwhile at the Tournament, Judge Maria Bustillos voted for:  Bats of the Republic.

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