Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Florida: Groff's Short Stories on Storms, Snakes, Motherhood, and Malaise

Good news, Lauren Groff fans: She is just as entertaining and smart a short story writer as she as a novelist. Not that I was worried. But her newest short story collection, Florida is terrific. Thematically linked by storms and snakes, motherhood, Mother Nature, and general malaise, these stories are elegant, emotionally resonant, and totally engrossing.

Five of these stories include the same character we know only as "the mother." The mother bears more than a passing literary resemblance to Groff herself — she lives in Florida, is a writer, is from upstate New York, and has two small boys. These five stories are all about how her interface with the world is different now that she's in charge of someone else's life. She's struggles to come to terms with what can be controlled and what can't. There are panthers and snakes, sinkholes and ever-worsening storms — all symbols for the perils of the world from which she tries to protect her sons. But the mother never seems quite comfortable with motherhood, marriage, or people in general. And that's what makes these stories so fascinating.

In "Flower Hunters," for instance, a story about the mother sitting on her porch reading an 18th century naturalist while her husband has taken her sons Trick-or-Treating, Groff writes that the mother "is frightened that there aren't many people on the earth she can stand." I loved this story for its intimate moments of self-reflection. "Stop waiting for someone to save you, humanity can't even save itself! she says aloud to the masses of princesses seething in her brain; but it is her black dog who blinks in agreement." That's Groff at her finest — a mix of humor and a somewhat despairing truth in the same sentence.

The six-non-mother stories are also equally intriguing, all in their own ways. There are two abandoned girls stranded on an island. There is a homeless college student. There's a woman visiting her rich best friend in France. And more...

There are general themes of abandonment, nagging sadness or malaise, and just general uneasiness with life throughout all these stories, but they're still engaging and often laugh-out-loud funny in spots. Groff is so adept at plumbing our quirks and stranger qualities, and rendering them sympathetically.

Groff is always a must-read for me. Indeed, my Lauren Groff fandom is well-documented. Groff could write about watching paint drying while doing income taxes, and I'd still be riveted. And I was here too. Highly recommended!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not quite the fan you are, but I am a fan. I've not picked up this book, but should I see it somewhere in paperback.....