Florida More Than a Back­drop in These Sto­ries

Award-win­ning writer Lau­ren Groff dis­sects her adopted state

Gulf & Main - - Contents -

Even if you’re not fan of short sto­ries, when you see a col­lec­tion of them ti­tled, sim­ply, Florida— with an al­lur­ing pan­ther on the cover, to boot—and you live or spend time in the state, then you have to pick up the book. And def­i­nitely more so when the au­thor is Lau­ren Groff, who has al­ready proven her­self ca­pa­ble of writ­ing award-win­ning lit­er­ary fic­tion.

Upstate New Yorker Groff, who now lives in Gainesville, most re­cently wrote the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Fates and Furies and has been a fi­nal­ist for the Na­tional Book Award and Na­tional Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award. She won the PEN/O. Henry Award and was named one of Granta’s 2017 Best Young Amer­i­can Novelists. Her cre­den­tials, in other words, are pretty good.

In each of her sto­ries in this col­lec­tion, Florida is more than a sim­ple back­drop. It is a lurk­ing, heavy, some­times suf­fo­cat­ing pres­ence, even when the story it­self may be set else­where—Brazil, as it is in “Sal­vador,” or France, as in “Yport.” The state has an over­whelm­ing in­flu­ence over Groff’s of­ten trou­bled char­ac­ters.

These are not bright Florida sun­shine tales, but sto­ries that take place in a world of “storms, snakes, and sink­holes,” where find­ing ways to sur­vive is all that mat­ters. The char­ac­ters in­clude two young sis­ters aban­doned on an iso­lated is­land, a woman fac­ing a hur­ri­cane on her own, a lonely boy be­com­ing an adult, a home­less woman, and the re­cur­ring char­ac­ter of a con­flicted wife and mother.

Groff’s col­lege-town back­ground comes through in many of her sto­ries’ set­tings: his­toric houses “aban­doned to grad­u­ate stu­dents;” a univer­sity grow­ing around a “last ten-acre par­cel, a pro­tec­tive cush­ion be­tween the old house and the rest of the world;” the ram­pant waste­ful­ness of stu­dents aban­don­ing their dorms and frat houses on grad­u­a­tion week­end.

Groff knows how to put words to­gether, es­pe­cially in de­scrip­tions of the state at the cen­ter of her sto­ries: “Florida in the sum­mer is a slow hot drown­ing.” A bril­liant or­ange sun­set is like be­ing “in­side the pump­kin.” As a storm ap­proaches, “the lake goose­bumped … the pal­met­tos nod­ded, ac­cept­ing the dance.”

There is com­fort to be found here. The char­ac­ters who pop­u­late the sto­ries in Florida are trou­bled, but they find their way back to a state of ac­cep­tance in a state they love.

These are not bright Florida sun­shine tales, but sto­ries that take place in a world of “storms, snakes, and sink­holes,” where find­ing ways to sur­vive is all that mat­ters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.