Author: Lauren Groff
Published: June 5, 2018
Where I picked up my book: Library
Key Words: Short stories, Nature, Florida, Human nature
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
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.
In all honesty, I am usually not a huge fan of short story collections. It’s just my personal taste. I like to get deeply involved in characters and in a plot, and be spit out at the end of 300 pages or so after a saga-esk story has unfolded within the pages. For me, I always find short stories to be too short (go figure) and lacking the depth and descriptions and dialogue for me to become emotionally involved in the character’s lives or story. I’m also a fast reader, to my chagrin, so I tend to plow through a short story and only actually comprehend half of it. (I do this with books too sometimes…I’m working on it). With that said, when this book became available at the library, for the second time, I almost let the hold lapse without picking it up again. That would have been a huge mistake. Each one of these stories felt like I was reading an entire novel. I was engrossed, I felt a deep connection to each character, I found myself emotionally invested in each plot, and when each story was finished, I couldn’t help but dive into the next wondering where else Groff was going to take me. What was different from other short stories I have read? I’m not 100% sure, but here are a few things that I noticed Groff did brilliantly in Florida.
A. She provided me with a sense of place. A sense of how your surroundings play a major role in your life. In this case it was Florida, but in my case-I kept thinking about how Buffalo, NY (where I’m originally from), played a huge role in my life (for better or worse I’m not sure), how San Francisco played a MAJOR role for me when I lived there, and how Colorado is now a beautiful character in my story. Scenery and place is always so important to me when I read, and Groff wrote that into each story as a secondary character. It was beautiful.
b. With each story, I had a deep dive into human nature. Each character introduced to me showed me that life is about the experiences, both good and bad, and that human nature isn’t always a linear walk. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s scary and other times it’s downright devastating. It’s always flawed…but there is a beauty to that.
c. An ambivalence to both motherhood and Florida itself seemed to sweep through almost all of these stories. I have always felt a true ambivalence to both of these ideas myself at different times throughout my life and it was interesting to explore my feelings through the lens of many different characters. (side note: For me, Florida=anywhere hot, sticky, buggy, without major season changes). And motherhood, well…me and motherhood have always had an interesting relationship. If you’re wondering-that dynamic is still going strong.
d. Each of these stories also seemed to explore the sense of danger and fear that women deal with on a regular basis. As women, we are taught to look into the back seat of our car, to always sleep with a phone by us in case something happens in the middle of the night, to always have a buddy with you when walking, to hold your keys a certain way in case of an attack, to dress “appropriately” so you don’t give off the wrong impression…I could go on and on. This has been a discussion in a lot of my circles lately, and I found it so appropriate and current to see it written in a compilation of short stories where I “experienced” that fear from different women’s perspectives.
d. Last, but certainly not least, Groff’s prose is so concise and beautiful, it almost made me cry multiple times throughout reading these stories.
I loved this collection and would encourage you to pick it up and read through it, slowly, savoring every bit. Or…if you’re like me and wanted to devour it as quickly as possible, do that, and then give it a slower re-read 🙂 If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought!