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Florida (2018)

by Lauren Groff

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7174322,455 (3.86)58
'Floridaisa magnificent collection, executed withtremendous depth and precision, unsettling in the best possible way.Lauren Groff is a virtuoso.'Emily St John Mandel, author of Station Eleven In her vigorous and moving new book, Lauren Groff brings her electric storytelling and intelligence to a world in which storms, snakes and sinkholes lurk at the edge of everyday life, but the greater threats and mysteries are of a human, emotional and psychological nature. Among those navigating it all 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 centre- 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, Floridais a magnificent achievement.… (more)
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‘’It is terribly true, even if the truth does not comfort, that if you look at the moon for long enough night after night, as I have, you will see that the old cartoons are correct, that the moon is, in fact, laughing. But it is not laughing at us, we lonely humans, who are far too small and our lives far too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all.’’

Lauren Groff needs no introductions. Following the modern classic Fates and Furies, a novel so unique, so raw, beautiful and honest, she gives us the short story collection Florida. Eleven stories mirroring every human feeling, eleven bottomless wells of the complexity and darkness of our relationships, our perceptions of the concepts of family, womanhood, love, memory and sadness. Eleven testimonies of characters confiding in the reader. Eleven courses of threat, caution and bravery, set in the very particular state of Florida. Eleven snapshots of daily life hiding extraordinary situations. For all emotions are indeed extraordinary.

‘’The neighbourhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighbourhood unrolls atop the daytime one. We have few streetlights, and those I pass under make my shadow frolic; it lags behind me, gallops to my feet, gambols on ahead. The only other illumination is from the window in the howes I pass and the moon that orders me to look up, look up! Feral cats dart underfoot, bird-of-paradise flowers poke out of the shadows, smells are exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.’’

Ghosts and Empties: A woman goes for long walks every evening, observing the neighbours and the homeless, peering through the lit windows, contemplating on her own life.

‘’The silence was eerie because he remembered the lake as a dense tapestry of sound, the click and whirr of the sandhill cranes, the cicadas, the owls, the mysterious subhuman cries too distant to identify. He had wanted to connect with something, something he had lost, but it wasn’t here.’’

At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners: A moving story of a man fighting against his tyrannical father whose words seem to awake the darkness inside him. The story of the love and bond between a mother and her child, a tale of finding the light guided by your mother’s legacy.

‘’The animal was torn between his hatred of children and his hatred of the wild storm outside.’’

Dogs Go Wild: Two girls are abandoned in a remote island. A haunting story of childhood, abuse and the constant threat each woman faces on a daily basis from ‘’men’’ who believe they own our bodies, our minds, our souls.

The Midnight Zone: A terrifying story of a family in a campsite. When a terrible accident takes place, it is the children that must protect their mother.

‘’This house is old. It has lived through other storms.’’

Eyewall: As a terrible storm is raging outside, a woman’s house is filled with the shadows of the past. Her dead husband, her father. A brilliant story of womanhood, marriage, love, devastation and new beginnings.

For the God of Love, For the Love of God: The tender story of the vacation of two families and a wonderful newcomer. A hymn to the fellowship and understanding between women, set in the sultry countryside.

Salvador: A woman spends her holidays in a Brazilian town and has to cope with the implications of a very strange and stormy night.

‘’Something has changed in the air; there’s a lot of wind now, a sense of something lurking.
The spirits of the dead, she’d think, if she were superstitious. The dark has thickened, and she hears music from the mansion down the road where every year the neighbours host an extravagant haunted house.
She is alone, and no trick-or-treaters have wondered by in an hour, the white sandbags of candlelight have burned out, and the renters have all turned off their lights, pretending not to be home.’’

Flower Hunters: It is Halloween. In a quiet suburb in Florida, a woman is sitting in her porch, her sons wandering around on a trick-or-treat effort. Her mind tries to cope with time and the changes it brings, the breaking of a dear friendship, the acute feeling of loneliness.

Above and Below: The ordeal of a young woman who made all the wrong choices and is now facing poverty and humiliation. A story that I read as a cautionary tale, a chronicle of lives destroyed by the fickle, pseudo-romantic idea of being a vagabond. Thank you, I’m all for anything bohemian, but I’ll pass…

‘’Tell me. You think there are still good people in the world?
Oh yes, he said. Billions. It’s just that the bad ones make so much more noise.’’

Snake Stones: A woman helps a girl in dire need and receives no kind word or even a simple ‘’thank you’’. So, she contemplates on the presence of good and evil, of prejudice and racism, and the snakes in our minds.

Yport: The presence of Guy de Maupassant haunts a young mother. In beautiful, sensual France, she tries to enter his mind and, possibly, his stories. But in truth, I don’t think she actually knows what she’s looking for. This story is beautifully atmospheric but I found the woman’s views raging to the extreme, projecting modern ‘’values’’ to the past. It is not a conviction I follow or accept and my experience with the closure of the collection was less than stellar.

But it doesn’t matter. Florida is brilliant. A literary wealth to be discovered beyond the storms, beyond the lair of snakes and the threat of the alligators in the dog days of summer, in the first days of autumn.

‘’The dead need nothing from us; the living take and take.’’

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/ ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Sep 12, 2020 |
In “Flower Hunters”, one of the stories in this collection, an angst-ridden mother finds some solace in reading about William Bartram, an 18th century naturalist who, like her had once been “a northerner dazzled by the frenzied flora and fauna” of Florida. She takes an almost perverse pleasure in imagining her homely neighbourhood as a yet undeveloped “damp, dense tangle. An Eden of dangerous things”. The protagonist completely forgets that it’s Halloween, and, as a consequence, her two boys must make do with improvised costumes. “For the older boy, she cut eyeholes in a white sheet for an old-style ghost, though it rankled, a white boy in a white sheet, Florida still the Deep South”. That night, while the boys and their dad traipse off to a Halloween party, she stays at home, reading about Bartram, listening to the rain and worrying about the sinkhole she is pretty sure is forming and threatening to gobble up her house.

The “Florida” of the title is less of a physical, geographical setting, than a complex of feelings, ideas and associations. The images in "Flower Hunters" are quite representative of this literary place, where the genteel, civilised exterior, is constantly ambushed by the dangerous and the unexpected; where relationships are brittle and class wars are still rife; where even the nicest of persons might be monsters in disguise. Several of the tales portray natural perils which, besides being symbolic, are also quite literal. "Eyewall", a ghost-story in all but name, takes place against the backdrop of a battering hurricane. Storms are a central feature of several of the stories, panthers and alligators roam in others, whilst the Biblical association between snakes and evil is reprised in “Snake Stories”. The feeling of menace is sometimes expressed in tales which skirt the Gothic – “Dogs go Wolf” is a Florida-set (where else?) re-imagining of myths and legends of feral children.

The pull of Florida is such that even in the stories set away from the state (and from North America, even), the same feelings and fears hold sway. For the protagonist of “Salvador”, the Brazilian town is as rain-soaked as home, and equally remindful of the inadequacies of a life spent tending to a bed-ridden mother. “For the God of Love, for the Love of God” is set in France, where a Florida couple visit an old friend, now married to a Swiss baron. As relationships and fortunes collapse, the story turns into a grim comedy-of-manners which I can imagine made into a French art-house movie, perhaps a sort of darker version of Le Prénom. France is, again, the backdrop of “Yport”, which follows a mother and her two boys on a journey to the places associated with Guy du Maupassant, an author whom the mother is unenthusiastically researching. The harried mother realizes that she hates the guy – both as man and as writer – but also takes another an important lesson home with her – “of all places in the world, she belongs in Florida. How dispiriting to learn this of herself”.

To be honest, “dispiriting” is an adjective which could also fit most of the stories in the collection. There are also themes, concerns and images, which keep returning obsessively, making this an anthology to savour, rather than to read in one sitting. And yes, Florida does deserve to be “savoured”. In just a few pages, Groff can draw a character worthy of a novel, conjure a setting and a mood, surprise the reader with a flash of insight, an unexpected image. At her best, Groff can indeed give us an “Eden of dangerous things”. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 12, 2020 |
I enjoy Groff's writing style, with its surprising twists of language, and I think that she truly captured Florida in all of its humidity, swampy smells, and crawly lizards. I thought the collection had a nice variety of stories, too, rather than feeling like they were all variations on one theme. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
Early Florida stories. Some a little far fetched for my taste. ( )
  pgabj | Dec 28, 2019 |
Groff writes a collection of short stories about Florida. A few of them are about the exodus from Florida, while most of them are about the misanthropic climatology of Florida. This weather serves as memorable myth making about marriages, families, and tragedy in --you guessed it---Florida.

The book is arranged like a hurricane with the calmer and more vibrant stories at the start. "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners" was the short story that left the biggest impression on me. It's a narrative about a boy's coming of age while dealing with being separated from his loving, nurturing mother.

The other poignant but gripping short was "Eyewall" Who doesn't love a vivid adventure about a woman in a cabin holed up commiserating over wine and regrets? For a moment, she has witty conversation with a man that she finds attractive, and that conversation is his last because after the storm passes, he winds up dead.

NPR praises "Above and Below", an atmospheric narrative about a woman who falls on hard times when she is forced to leave college because her life in graduate school goes off the rails. We learn about her troubled discourse with mom, the boyfriend who abandoned her, and that she had been living in the dorm without power for quite a while before she vacated.

Thank heaven, I studied Guy de Maupassant in English Seminar because I couldn't have had much compassion for the women and children who stay in "YPort". As the final short story of the series, this one was labeled a "descent". Groff uses death, rape, and family ties to reveal a main character truly in denial who thinks she must immerse herself and her children in the life and culture of Normandy to finish a writing project. She and the children realize they hate the author who dies from syphilis due to ravenous sexual exploits. She does everything she can to live the "write life" but the fancy cloud she wears doesn't hide her true passion. Was it the stories he wrote or the idea that she believed that by living where he lived, she could purge herself of her past?

If you're trapped inside and looking for a story that might emulate a murder mystery, the "Midnight Zone" was quite a noir. I don't know what's worse. Between starving children, adult hallucination, and creepy creatures in the night... I kept thinking about the bass line in Spoon's "The Mystery Zone". A great many of Groff's stories dealt with survival as a theme. How characters survived was totally tethered to what idols and ideas their minds were left processing at any given moment.

Groff is no David Sedaris. There were times when her sentences were stretched a bit too long. But Florida is most about the animalistic urges we all succumb to and less about a state in the United States. Florida is a gerund... and not a noun.

Best line: "There was a sensation in cleaning that she used to get in her other lifetime when the books she was reading were so compelling they carried through the hours. Words were space carved out of life." (187)

( )
  HaroldMillican | Dec 15, 2019 |
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'Floridaisa magnificent collection, executed withtremendous depth and precision, unsettling in the best possible way.Lauren Groff is a virtuoso.'Emily St John Mandel, author of Station Eleven In her vigorous and moving new book, Lauren Groff brings her electric storytelling and intelligence to a world in which storms, snakes and sinkholes lurk at the edge of everyday life, but the greater threats and mysteries are of a human, emotional and psychological nature. Among those navigating it all 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 centre- 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, Floridais a magnificent achievement.

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