The universally-acclaimed return of the New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furies. In Lauren Groff's Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks. Florida is a "superlative" book (Boston Globe), "gorgeously weird and limber" (New Yorker), "frequently funny" (San Francisco Chronicle), "brooding, inventive and often moving" (NPR Fresh Air) -- as Groff is recognized as "Florida's unofficial poet laureate, as Joan Didion was for California." (Washington Post) "Groff's gifts as a writer just keep soaring higher and higher." - NPR's Fresh Air In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild--a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character--a steely and conflicted wife and mother. The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida--its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind--becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury--the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.
I grew up in the part of Florida where Groff sets her characters and, while she perhaps ignores some of the more charming aspects of the area, she nonetheless captures its cultural and environmental nuances. I simply loved this collection. Absolutely recommended.
The stories are, for the most part, female-centric: the protagonists (if we can call them that) are mostly discontented mothers (generally of boys, as another reviewer notes), and there is indeed a sense of sameness about them. Perhaps they are a bit autobiographical, or perhaps they are based on sketches and notes for another novel. But I think the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that Groff creates is intentional; it's the framework on which the collection is built, and Groff's marvelous writing carries it through, in all its bleakness. Who else would look at the sun and see "yellow wool," a perfect metaphor that works on more than one of the senses?
So, beautifully crafted, but, yes, bleak. Don't read this if you're feeling rather down; it will only take you deeper. In the bleakest of these bleak stories, a young woman leaves graduate school and her job as an English instructor to live in her car, sneaking into clubs and public libraries to get a wash, eating out of dumpsters, getting kicked off beaches for parking after hours, and just when you think it can't get any worse, it does--again and again. I don't think I've ever felt so depressed after finishing a short story. And I have to credit Groff's writing for moving me that much. Read Florida and appreciate it as art. You'll be carried away--just not quite to the paradise that the Sunshine State portrays in its promotional material.
Quotes: "For years at a time I was good at only the things that interested me, and since all that interested me were my books and my children, the rest of life had sort of inched away. My husband had to be the one to make up for the depths of my lack."
“What had been built to seem so solid was fragile in the face of time because time is impassive, more animal than human. Time would not care if you fell out of it. It would continue on without you.”
Reading through this collection of stories, it quickly becomes clear that Groff has conflicted feelings about the Sunshine State, her current state of residence. These are dark tales, mostly set in Florida, with women or children dealing with difficult issues and trying to face down personal or natural threats.
Not every story sings, but most do and the writing is uniformly strong and well-paced. If you have not read Groff, this might be a good place to start.
Generally, I always read a book or listen to a book, to its conclusion. Sometimes the reader can even make a book I don’t love, one I will listen to anyway, hoping for some redeeming feature, but this one, read by the author, made me give up after listening to more than two thirds of it. I was surprised by my reaction to the book, so I looked into other reviews and found that mine is in the minority. Usually, I check out many, including Amazon’s reviews, after I have written down my thoughts, but because of their change in policy, requiring purchases of a certain amount before a “free review” can be posted, there were fewer from more ordinary readers than I expected. Most of the professional reviews are very positive and I had the thought that there might be a bit too much honor among thieves. Perhaps, however, the print book is better. I found the author’s reading of this book disappointing. I thought that water would boil faster and constantly had the urge to nudge her to increase her speed. I also felt that she was too close to the tales to tell them without over emoting and being somewhat melodramatic in her presentation. Sometimes, my attention waned.
As a disclaimer, let me declare that I live in Florida for part of the year, so my feelings may be a bit defensive. I do not find it as formidable, dark and or threatening a place as the characters in Groff’s stories do, or perhaps, as she herself does, since she lives there, as well. I actually find Florida a pleasant place to live in, with many nice people from varied backgrounds who enjoy the year round sunshine. It makes most people happy and they smile much of the time.
The author’s stories make Florida sound like a snake pit filled with desperate people who don’t seem stable or fit, kind or welcoming to strangers. They seem to be shallow people who make foolish choices that often go awry or backfire entirely. Every story involves some kind of a threatening situation. Each character or setting harbored some kind of menace. There seemed to be danger lurking everywhere, as in the weather, the people, the communities, the schools, the families, and even the animals; she left no stone unturned regarding injustice and inequity. It felt like she was trying to say whatever could go wrong, would go wrong.
My Florida experience is much happier and is filled with more sunshine than clouds and danger. Although the author was not political in her stories, there is a subtle indication that many of the issues included in the liberal agenda were failing in the state of Florida. The emphasis on hurricanes seems to portray the state as suffering from the devastating effects of climate change. There is a stress on income inequality in some of the stories, and of course, there are immigration issues and racism in many places. Children are abused and abandoned; communities are gentrified, which locks out the very people who now live there happily. She seems to prefer decaying communities for their diversity, regardless of the danger in some, to what she portrays as “white” gated communities which she seems to scorn for their safety and lack of diversity. It felt as if she thought that the Occupy Movement and others like it, with their drugs, crime and rape, are a positive influence on a community, while upward mobility only points out income disparity and is negative, rather than something we all should aspire to instead, as a positive move.
Although I was really looking forward to this book, having enjoyed Fates and Furies, I just could not complete it. There were snakes lurking everywhere, dangerous storms were always brewing, hate hid behind many doors, many men portrayed had lurid thoughts about women, and the women seemed to be loose and irresponsible with their children and their morals. Even the dogs were mean!
There were so many stories that were rife with danger, either real or imaginary, that I was turned off because of the overriding feeling of bleakness. Perhaps the author was intending to show the way the Yin and the Yang could merge, altering our behavior to reach some kind of a better balance in society, but she seems to have leaned too far to the dark side to accomplish that, for me.
Each of the eleven stories here have a connection to Florida. Either they are set in that state, or a character is from there though currently abroad. Often the protagonist is from away, typically a northern woman who has married into a Florida family. But nearly everyone in Florida is effectively from away. Only the alligators, snakes, and the rare panther are truly native. Events, relationships, love itself, even the land here is fluid. Indeed land periodically disappears into sink holes or encroaches on former wetlands. It’s sometimes hard to find firm ground.
The majority of the stories are astonishingly good. In particular, I would mention, “The Midnight Zone,” “For the God of Love, for the Love of God,” “Dogs Go Wolf,” and “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners.” But others, such as “Ghosts and Empties,” might be even better. I was struck by “Above and Below,” a story new to me, and also by “Salvador.” But as there were no stories I didn’t enjoy it seems almost churlish to single any out.
Here, as in her novels, Groff displays a nuanced touch with metaphor. Her adjectives sometimes just startle you. It makes her writing a distinct pleasure to read. And easy to recommend.
This book is short stories, in theory all having to do with Florida. Only the longest takes place in France (the narrator is from Florida), and one is in Salvador, Brazil. My two favorites were The Flower Hunters (a needy and forgetful mom struggling with her perfect best friend's "needing a break"), and Above and Below (a grad student ends up homeless after losing her funding and gaining and ex-boyfriend (and thus losing her housing) at about the same time.
Goff is very good at writing the mothers of children. Per the cover flap, she has boys herself. She can capture the fear, wonder, and love that goes into being a mom.
p. 162 "What a relief she has boys; this princess nonsense is a tragedy of multigenerational proportions.
Stop waiting for someone to save you, humanity can't even save itself! she says aloud to the masses of princesses seething in her brain" from "The Flower Hunters"
This is a collection of 11 intense short stories about people, mostly women, either living in Florida or with a connection to Florida. Every bad thing about Florida is highlighted: hurricanes, mosquitoes, bugs, snakes, gators, termites, swamps, homelessness, etc. Since I am afraid of snakes, one of the stories was very creepy for me.
The female protagonists in some of the stories are not content with their role as a wife and/or mother. Throughout there is a theme of loss, grief, and loneliness. Overall, I enjoyed this book because of the Floridian atmosphere which I love. Ms. Groff's writing kept me interested even though the stories were scary because of the uncertainty that seemed to lurk everywhere!
I was particularly intrigued by “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners.” Groff writes, “Jude was born in a Cracker-style house at the edge of a swamp that boiled with unnamed species of retiles. Few people lived in the center of Florida then. Air-conditioning was for the rich, and the rest compensated with high ceilings, sleeping porches, attic fans. Jude’s father was a herpetologist at the university, and if snakes hadn’t slipped their way into their hot house, his father would have filled it with them anyway. Coils of rattlers sat in formaldehyde on the windowsills. Writhing knots of reptiles lived in the coops out back, where his mother had once tried to raise chickens. At an early age, Jude learned to keep a calm heart when touching fanged things. He was barely walking when his mother came into the kitchen to find a coral snake chasing its red and yellow tale around his wrist (13). When I was young, I had an interest in snakes, but my interest waned when I could find none in a brown stone row house in Philadelphia.
In “Eyewall,” an attempt to raise chickens had some odd results. Groff writes, “It began with chickens. They were Rhode Island Reds and I’d raised them from chicks. Though I called until my voice gave out, they’d huddled in the darkness under the house, a dim mass faintly pulsing. Fine, you ungrateful turds! I’d said before abandoning them to the storm. I stood in the kitchen at the one window I left unboarded and watched the hurricane’s bruise spreading in the west. I felt the chickens’ rising through the floorboards to pass through me like prayers” (64). Groff has a talent for bringing into sharp relief, the two- and four-legged, as well as those with no legs at all.
“Flower Hunters” ends on a peculiar note. The unnamed narrator wants to call her friend Meg, but she remembers Meg wanted to “take a break” from their relationship. Lauren writes, “Two weeks ago, she called Meg at eleven at night because she’d read an article about the coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico being covered with a mysterious whiteish slime that was killing them, and she knew enough to know that when a reef collapses, so do dependent populations, and when they go, the ocean goes” (167)
Snakes appear off and on, and here is another, “Snake Stories.” She writes, “It is strange to me, and alien in this place, and ambivalent northerner, to see how my Florida sons takes snakes for granted. My husband, digging out a peach tree that had died from climate change, brought into the house a shovel full of poisonous baby coral snakes, brightly enameled and writhing. Cook! Said my little boys, but I woke from frantic sleep that night, slapping at my sheets, sure the light pressure on my body was twining of many snakes that had slipped from the shovel and searched until they found my warmth” (206).
Lauren Groff is a writer who can easily describe a character in her stories as well as calmly describing dangerous reptiles. Florida is a story for readers who abhor snakes, as well as those who are fascinated by the scaly creatures. 5 stars.