Floridaby Lauren Groff Published 05 Jun 2018
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Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff’s Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks.
The New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies returns, bringing 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.
thanks to riverhead books and edelweiss for the advance copy.
i'm a big fan of lauren groff. i read her 2015 novel, fates and furies, and loved her writing, then met her at a book signing and admired her as a person, too: funny, dazzlingly intelligent, well-read. florida is only the second book i've read of hers, though i plan to remedy that soon.
with florida, she's written a collection of stories that come together to form a loose, novel-esque whole about florida: the good, the bad, and the ugly. some of the stories here knocked me out with emotional resonance—"flower hunters," for example, read like it was carved in its entirety from a deep insecurity, and it socked me in the face. some of them branch out from the central locale, but they all tie back to florida in some way. like in fates and furies, groff's writing is stunning: she describes wonderfully without oversharing; she evokes setting without boring us; and she delivers poignant messages without being heavy-handed.
I loved Lauren Goff’s Fates and Furies. I thought the writing was absolutely brilliant and the story and characters were really original. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on Florida, which is Goff’s latest short story collection. Unfortunately, I can’t rave about the stories in the same way I raved about Fates and Furies. I recognize her talented writing, but there was a flat clever feel to her stories that made it hard for me to feel engaged. Most of the stories focused on women, often with young children, often in Florida, often with distant husbands, often dark, and all struggling with internal personal turmoil. Some stories were definitely better than others. There was one set during a wind storm in Florida, with a woman alone at home with her two boys that really got my attention. And she really captures the nuances of mothers’ love for young children. There’s a creepy story about two young girls left alone on an island. But, overall, these stories didn’t have me particularly excited. And I must also warn that it’s definitely not a book for who are afraid of snakes. Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
This was my first real experience of Groff. The final story in this collection, Yport, was included in Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3 which I read several months ago, but that didn’t help me much because it has been so majorly re-worked by the time it gets into this collection that it is almost a new piece (same basic story, but significantly edited): I was comparing the two for the first few paragraphs, but the changes are so numerous and significant that I gave up and I'm not sure how much the versions diverged in the end.
The state of Florida is the unifying element in all the stories presented here, although this doesn’t mean that all the stories are set in Florida, simply that all the protagonists have a connection with the place. Salvador, for example, is set in Brazil as the protagonist explores an unknown city (in a rather dissolute fashion, it has to be said). And Yport that I have already mentioned is set in France where a woman travels to the town to continue her research in Guy de Maupassant. But many of the stories do take place in Florida. It doesn’t come over as the sunshine state! It seems that along with lurking hurricanes and far too many snakes for my personal taste, there are a lot of sad and lonely people and a fair amount of poverty. In one story, a woman sits out a hurricane in her house, in another a woman struggles with her snake-obsessed husband. In the opening story, a woman wanders the streets at night to help her stress levels and observes her neighbourhood.
In many of the stories, I admired the writing. Groff has an observant eye and an interesting turn of phrase. The individual stories are often well-told with occasional flashes of humour. There are some links between the stories with images or brief moments recalling earlier parts of the book. But the overall impression, of women who are depressed or struggling with life in some way or other, gets a bit heavy if you read the book cover to cover as I have done. I also found the way that so many of the stories ended very suddenly and often by leaping off at a tangent rather repetitive in the end (stories seem to suddenly leap forward for a glimpse of the character decades later, for example, or, in some cases, jump into what almost seems to be a different story just for the final paragraph). Perhaps this is a book that is better enjoyed by reading one story at a time?
Overall, I enjoyed the writing and I liked several of the stories, but I found the complete collection rather hard work to get through. From my perspective, I would advise readers to take their time with this and spread it out.
My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I really liked this collection! As a Florida boy, I had high expectations and Groff met them and surpassed them. She captured the other side of the place that tourists — and the popular imagination — often miss, the grittiness and the quiet desperation. This collection is filled with a palpable sense of danger lurking around every corner in the natural world. The protagonists go to great lengths to protect themselves from panthers, gators, snakes, hurricanes, etc., but time and again find the greatest threats to come from the inside. There’s also a strong thread of existential panic over global warming, which is quite appropriate for a book that takes as it’s subject Florida, a state with much to lose as des levels rise and the climate warms.
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The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries - each feeling like its own full narrative instead of individual stories (there are wonderful links between them too).
Florida is at the heart of this book but the characters and story spans the country and world with its rich characters, climate, history, and state of mind!
If you love rich, literary, and atmospheric writing then you'll love this too. (I'm not always a huge fan of short stories - yet her style has the power to turn anyone toward the joy of them).
I received an ARC copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I'm happy that I won it because I'm not sure I would have bought it on my own. I've never read any of her other works so I came in with no preconceived notions about how good the writing should be. She's definitely a good writer and it held my attention, but I started to feel like the stories were a bit repetitive towards the end. More than one involved a large storm or hurricane and all had similar effects on the characters. All of the stories centered around women with a heavy emphasis on the different experiences of motherhood. I always enjoy short story collections that offer a variety of different tales and viewpoints but this one just fell flat for me.