‘Florida’ by Lauren Groff – If It’s not the Alligators and Snakes, It’s the Suffocating Heat

 

‘Florida’ by Lauren Groff    (2018) – 275 pages

The Florida of this new collection of stories by Lauren Groff is not a very likable place. Groff’s Florida is not the beachfront coastal Florida but the swampy central deep-country Florida of alligators, snakes, and lots of insects. The setting is typical of Gainesville, Florida where Groff currently lives. This is the Florida of makeshift boats in stagnant ponds and “frenzied flora and fauna”. And then there is the oppressive sweltering heat and the quite frequent hurricanes. Even an occasional panther and a lot of bad smells. And the people are nearly as bad as the climate.

Even when the main character somehow escapes Florida to Brazil in ‘Salvador’ and France in ‘Yport’, things don’t get any better in these stories.

In some of the stories the main characters go unnamed. In the story ‘Above and Below’, the main character is referred to always as either ‘she’ or ‘the girl’. In the Guy de Maupassant story ‘Yport’ the main characters are only ever called ‘the mother’ or ‘the older boy’ or ‘the little boy’. This lack of names distanced me from the stories. One of the many problems for me with this collection is its lack of immediacy or charm.

‘Above and Below’ is about a young woman who voluntarily gave up the academic life and descended into the life of the homeless. However it seemed more like she passively sleepwalked into the life of a homeless poor person and it was not a spirited descent. I wearied of this story.

I suspect that Lauren Groff is a writer more suited for the novel rather than the short story. Her stories here are too cluttered and vague for this short form, and we readers lose interest.

In too many of the stories the main character, usually a woman, seems world weary. She is stuck entertaining the kids while any man is off somewhere else. In ‘Yport’ our nameless heroine is in France with her two nameless kids to further study the famous French writer Guy de Maupassant for a potential book about him. She has already discovered that Guy de Maupassant was a total creep, and most of his literary work besides the famous stories is not very good. This could potentially have been a fascinating story about how our literary heroes can turn out to be lousy human beings. Instead the story is mostly about the morose mother listlessly entertaining her children in various French places. Reading about someone who is so dispirited and tired eventually becomes tiresome itself.

I searched the stories in ‘Florida’ in vain for even one spark of the vivacity of Lauren Groff’s ‘Fate and Furies’ which made that novel such a delight. (‘Fates and Furies’ was my favorite fiction read of 2015.)

 

 

Grade : C

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I first read her Delicate Edible Birds short story collection and it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Then I read the novel The Monsters of Templeton and thought that, possibly, she was a better short story writer, so it’s funny to see you had the opposite experience. I’m very disappointed to hear this isn’t so good, but I still got her other novels to look forward to.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Caroline,
      I loved ‘Fates and Furies’ which was my favorite novel of 2015, and I was looking forward to ‘Florida’ with anticipation. There are a lot of positive reviews of ‘Florida’ out there, and you will probably want to read those. It is funny that we reached opposite conclusions on Lauren Groff as a short story writer vs a novelist.
      For me, the ultimate wonderful Florida novel is ‘Swamplandia’ by Karen Russell.

      Like

      Reply

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