BETWEEN THE LINES Florida More Than a Backdrop in These Stories
Award-winning writer Lauren Groff dissects her adopted state
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.