“Florida,” by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff

Reviewed by Bonnie Armstrong

Groff’s only short story collection, Florida, is an example of her exploration of individuals pitted against not only society but also their own conflicted and, often, unarticulated desires.

These stories present themes of domesticity versus wildness; nature as uncaring and uncontrollable; claustrophobic security versus unmoored rootlessness; and Florida as both a geographical place and a state of mind, fractured and contradictory, where people live with both ambivalence and passion.

The protagonists vary from children to adults, but all of them are imperiled by some extremity and seek to survive in the face of the deadly and alluring flora and fauna (and other humans).

In the first story, Ghosts and Empties, the unnamed mother is an outsider living in an exotic and threatening environment in a small town in Florida because of her husband’s work. She is a troubled observer of the lives of her neighbors and of her own family rather than a real participant in life.

In the final story, Yport, this same unnamed protagonist flees with her two young sons on an ostensible literary research trip to France. To her dismay, she discovers her own self-truths don’t change with geography and that where she belongs is part of the unshakeable bond she has with her sons.

In Salvador, a middle-aged woman discovers she can no longer escape who she has become, and that acceptance is easier and more comforting than struggling against herself.

In Flower Hunters, a woman’s needy demands are driving everyone but the dog away. After she loses her best friend, she must confront her fears of the uncontrollable and come to terms with life as we all must live it.

The compelling characters and underlying themes are part of the pleasure in reading this collection, but the real magic comes from Groff’s use of language. By blurring or collapsing reality and the imaginary, Groff allows us to share that moment when everything seems to fall apart, and everyday life dangles by a thread. In this way, Florida becomes truly both a state and a state of mind.

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  1. Looks like there might be an earlier collection, DELICATE EDIBLE BIRDS. a 2009 collection from Hyperion.

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