MFA vs NYC by Chad Harbach

I picked this up because it’s something that’s interested me, despite not wanting to be a fiction writer. It’s a compilation of essays or snippets of essays that argue for/against/both MFAs or NYC as a means of…what? Becoming a fiction writer? Learning to write? Entering that industry? Depends. It doesn’t necessarily even argue education vs experience, but a much more specific look at which of these paths may be right for you depending on what you want out of it or what you may need at the time. Continue reading

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I’m pretty disappointed in whoever the first person was who thought to compare this to Gone Girl. I get the reasoning, it’s about a man & a woman & the story shifts perspective about halfway through, turning the previous perspective’s version on it’s head a bit. But that’s where the similarities end. It’d be better to compare it to a greek mythological tale, or a Shakespearian play, or This Side of Paradise, or a Woody Allen film…not Gone Girl.

This is the tale of Lotto & Mathilde, two young lovers who get married quickly, & their lives before & after the marriage. They’re portrayed as yin & yang characters, opposites that fit perfectly. Told along with a bracketed, omniscient narrator’s insertions that function like a greek chorus.

It’s Pulitzer nominated, so I don’t have to tout its good reviews, but even the bad reviews I’ve read all agree the writing is good. Prose that’s lyrical, but clipped. The non-purple kind, that keeps you awake. Instead of dreamy visions, we get zoomed-in close ups with the vibrancy dialed up to ten. It makes it a real page turner & I feel that’s the main reason I didn’t put this book down once I started it.

So I’m going to go through some comments from bad reviews & argue why you shouldn’t listen to them.

  • “WTF kind of name is Lotto?” The fucking awesome kind. Besides the prediction that this will be the new go-to choice of baby names for celebrities in 2027, it’s a name that describes exactly the kind of book you’re getting into even before you’ve read it, which is an extremely hard task for a writer. While implying Lancelot is chivalrous, romantic, & making you think of King Arthur, it’s shortened for a modern update as Lotto. Lotto is only called Lancelot after Mathilde dubs him so once he’s reached something of a turning point in their marriage & becomes a playwright. Lotto also reminds us of the lottery & the “fate” which is his side of the story, as opposed to Mathilde’s “fury.”
  • “It’s all about sex.” There is a fair amount of sexual language, but I’d argue that when you’re reading a novel centering a relationship, one with frequent tips of power imbalances &that starts when both characters are in their early twenties, it’d be stupid to expect anything less. There was maybe one scene that stuck in my mind, only because it was degrading, & it’s purpose was to be degrading, so goal = achieved.
  • “It was shallow & unrealistic.” These are fictional characters named Lotto & Mathilde. How many Lotto’s & Mathilde’s do you know? This book perfectly teeters between modern & mythical. But like any good myth, the dramatic emotions are heightened versions of familiar feelings. They are extreme versions of two ways of going about life (Lotto’s passive fate acceptance vs Mathilde’s aggressive fury). This book isn’t a surface level book. If anything, it lacks expanse. It tunnels in a pretty straight line, a perfectly orchestrated narrative tale. But if you’re looking for philosophical realism, I suggest another book I’m currently reading called The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.
  • “I didn’t like the stereotypical gender role implications.” Which? There are several ways you could argue this, & I think a case can be made for many opposing sides. Has anybody written a paper on this yet? They should, there’s plenty of opportunities for some obvious Freud, Butler, & Plato footnotes.

I will say though that a lot of the language separates things (from the character’s perspectives) into “good” & “bad.” But when fate is involved, there isn’t much room for a grey area, or is there?

I debated for a while whether or not to include spoilers in this review, because a lot of the bad reviews had problems with the second half of the book, but I think if you go in expecting a certain kind of story, you won’t be disappointed. So this is the kind of story you’re going to get: It’s about a relationship, in which two people expect something from one another. Each has the perception that this other person will do something that will fix an emptiness in his or her own life. However, each of their attitudes about their own life impact the other to the point of either success or demise.

The rest is spoilery so please avoid if you have not read… Continue reading