Set in the 1990’s, Fernanda Eberstadt’s The Furies explores the grand passion and ill-fated union of two very different people. Gwen Lewis is the chilly intellectual director of a private institute that will help the new Russia adapt to capitalism. With a trust fund and a condominium on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she sees no need for either marriage or children. Then she encounters Gideon Wolkowitz, puppeteer and secular Jew, asleep on a park bench. A political activist, Gideon is also widely versed in Jewish folklore, both of which offer inspiration for his puppet plays. One glimpse of his lean, flat belly and Gwen is weak with lust. To him her money is unimportant, but sex is not. When she becomes pregnant, they marry despite her family’s objection.
The novel follows the disintegration of this marriage as the Furies of desire, selfishness, and enmity invade their lives. Gwen begrudges Gideon’s time with his puppet troupe, yet she also resents providing most of their financial support. She envies his natural ease with baby Bella, so she hires a nanny against his wishes. Gideon is angry about the guilt she heaps on him and believes that with her money she controls the marriage. Both feel cheated.
These are essentially shallow, unlikable people, especially Gwen, whose childhood memory of her vulnerable little brother seems the only sympathetic facet of her character. The Furies repeats the weary clichés of the haves and have- nots: The wealthy (Gwen, her family and friends) are out of touch with the essence of life, while human warmth, affection, and sincerity belong only to the poor (Gideon and his fellow artists). An annoying authorial voice addresses the characters directly and foreshadows the melodramatic ending.