Florida by Lauren Groff is a strange, atmospheric, unsettling and absolutely captivating collection of short stories. While the book blurb says it’s the landscape, climate, history and state of mind of the titular American State that binds these stories, the overarching element permeating most of this collection is Florida’s extreme weather, terrain and wildlife, used to great effect; whether it’s the oppressive heat, ferocious wind or rain whipping, the murky swamp just beyond the household threshold, or the threatening animals lurking in the shadows. These are strange stories of loneliness, abandonment and betrayal, of strained child/parent relationships, of women unfulfilled and relationships marred by lack of communication, all brimming with atmosphere and filled with tension; some of them are even fable-like. The boy abandoned by his mother to live with his father in a house teeming with reptiles; the young girls abandoned by their parents on an island. And yet in many of these stories, at some point the protagonist is looking back at these dark times from some future point, evoking this sense of pushing through, of emerging from a waking nightmare. The stories are not all set in Florida but even when we move away, similar tensions and threats linger.
The writing is bold, playful, and vibrant, even at its darkest, and such a pleasure to read. The opening story follows a raging but humorous narrator, walking her neighbourhood and glimpsing the lives of others as she passes, in a narrative that is breathless and rolling, emulating her walking, and drawing us bounding into this collection.
I flew through this book, was absolutely engrossed by it, and will definitely be looking to read more by Groff.
Florida was published by Windmill Books in 2018.
Lauren Groff is the author of six books of fiction, the most recent the novel MATRIX (September 2021). Her work has won The Story Prize, the ABA Indies’ Choice Award, and France’s Grand Prix de l’Héroïne, was a three time finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and twice for the Kirkus Prize, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Prize, the Southern Book Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Prize. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.