The Marriage Plot is one of our most beloved storylines. From Much Ado About Nothing to Cinderella, it tells of one couple’s path to nuptial bliss with the marriage at the end serving as a metaphor for order and harmony restored to the world. The After-Marriage Plot is perhaps better-suited to our century. Dramatizing the ennui, petty jealousy and adulterous impulses that plague many a modern couple, the After-Marriage Plot pokes holes in the old-fashioned tale of souls united. Whether it’s Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, it basks in love’s contradictions.

Fates and Furies was President Barack Obama’s favorite book of 2015. A sprawling diptych of marriage told through the man’s perspective (Fates) and then through the woman’s (Furies), there is a good chance it will join the canon of After-Marriage Plots. Following Chekhov’s dictum that a story’s “center of gravity should reside in two: he and she,” Lauren Groff focuses tightly on her protagonists: Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite, “loud and full of light,” and Mathilde, “quiet, watchful.”

The beginning of the novel is big and bright. Groff makes full use of her imagination, leaping from Lotto’s adolescence at prep school where he’s nicknamed “Bumblef*ck Pie” to his exploits in college, where he sleeps with every woman in sight: “Fleabitten women’s studies major with nip rings; townie with a roll cresting out of her acid-washed jeans.” Groff’s descriptions are lyrical, specific and inventive. Her gifts as a storyteller are clear.

When Lotto and Mathilde meet at Vassar, it’s a bizarre love-at-first-sight. He’s the shirtless Adonis, guzzling vodka, and Mathilde is the mythological pretty wisp of a girl. He waddles up to her, grabs her by the arm and says, “Marry me!” She says yes, and like many great characters, she buries her past in an attempt to create herself anew. Instead of telling Lotto the truth about the family that abandoned her, she leaps into his arms and they have sex on his desk. They also have it in beds, hallways, hotel rooms and beaches. Sex becomes the fulcrum of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage. Their sex life exceeds “healthy,” and in the end, their marriage seems like a choice between sex and honesty. Groff leaves it up to readers to decide which is more important.

After graduation, the newlyweds move into a cockroach-infested apartment in the West Village. Struggling to find work, Lotto’s dreams of acting begin to erode. He’s the heir to an immense family fortune, but he’s been cut-off by his mother, an obese, agoraphobe who despises Mathilde. It’s hard to tell where the story is headed until Lotto wakes up in the middle of the night and writes a play. Mathilde discovers it the next day and pounds on his chest, “You’re a genius f*cking playwright.”

Lotto’s play is a smash, and suddenly he’s the new Arthur Miller. While Groff’s writing is full of surprises, the decision to make Lotto a masterful artist is disappointing. It’s hard to get excited about another white, male genius. Nor does it help that he comes from privilege, is straight and hyper-virile. One would rather see Mathilde burst out of her strange, little shell. Instead, she spends her life serving Lotto. “She loves to cook and clean and edit my work, it makes her happy to do these things.”

Groff manages to make Lotto a convincing, swaggering hunk of a man, but poor Mathilde never seems real. When she finally gets the section she deserves, her fury poisons every page. Unlike Lotto’s section, rich with characters and faraway settings, Mathilde is stuck with secrecy and frustration. She spent a lifetime “boiled underneath a placid skin,” and when she finally breaks free, she is reclusive and vengeful. She shuts herself in, avoids relationships and burns down a house for reasons I won’t spoil.

Fates and Furies derives from Greek mythology. The title’s commands are named after goddesses, and the chorus-like asides point to a desire to turn Lotto and Mathilde into heroic and doomed figures. Indeed, they are larger-than-life lovers who can quote Shakespeare one moment and have sex on the kitchen floor the next. As appealing as this might sound, they are too much like a real-life happy couple; their passion is intense but exclusive. We are always on the outside. As a result, Lotto and Mathilde are beautifully-crafted statues. The only thing missing is the heart.

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