Florida, Lauren Groff, 2018
Groff, whose prior books have been nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, has written a beautiful, sad, and haunting set of 11 short stories in which Florida is a consistent presence. The state with its heat and humidity, its hurricanes, its cold and damp winters, and its snakes, bull alligators, lizards, and pelicans is a powerful backdrop for these stories about human relationships. There’s not a lot of action in these stories besides the impact of the weather on the people. Yes, there’s the hurricane that figures in several and yes, in one, the recurring character of the mother of two sons and wife in a challenging relationship, does fall off a kitchen stool and is left alone, dazed, and disoriented with her two small boys 20 miles from civilization without a phone. The mother and the two boys appear in almost half of the stories and the fact that we never learn their names only further universalizes the questions of how to be a person, how to be in a relationship, how to raise boys to become men, and how do we get from here to there and remain intact and coherent for ourselves. Groff writes beautiful sentences: “On the day I found the girl, the robins were migrating and the crape myrtles flashed with red.” Time, place, birds, trees,and the shock of ‘the girl’, all in one sentence. Well done. This is a fine collection to savor and dwell on.