Reviewed by Jed Cruz
By Lauren Groff
288 pp. Riverhead Books.
Florida opens with a nameless woman going for a nighttime jog as a constant monologue goes on in her head. She thinks about her family, and her neighborhood, her neighbors, and about life in general. She digs up some memories — one or two remarkable ones in particular — and then she ends her inner narrative on a tangent that seems only remotely related, if at all.
This is the first short story in a book that contains eleven. The ten that follow then proceed to do exactly the same thing.
Lauren Groff writes very well. The book’s prose flows with a unique tone that lends a thick, oppressive atmosphere to all the stories it contains. This only serves to amplify the problem with Florida, however: the writing is exceptional, but the content quickly becomes uninteresting from its predictability.
There are two themes that tie the eleven stories together: the titular state of Florida, and the protagonists being women going through some form of physical or emotional crisis. For the first two stories, it appears to be a compelling combination. Groff’s depiction of Florida and its swamps, sinkholes, reptiles, and insects make for a different kind of backdrop for stories about family tragedies and unattained dreams. It then becomes apparent that the stories that follow all stick to the same formula. Even the final story in the book repeats this very same formula to the point of becoming a parody. The protagonist muses about life. She recalls a strong memory. The narration suggests that a tragedy is about to happen, but it does not. The tale then ends on a strange note, either jumping forward or back in time, or just with strange, unrelated imagery.
This is a shame because Florida really could have been something, but the pervading sameness of the stories makes it very difficult to remain invested. With a bit of variety and unpredictability, Florida could have maintained the air of mystery and danger that it opened with. At the very least, this collection could have been better curated.
Florida features remarkable prose, but the subject matter becomes repetitive quickly. Recommended only for fans of very introspective and open-ended stories, and even then, read this one story at a time over the span of a year.
Florida by Lauren Groff will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. To reserve your copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jed is one of the co-founders of Popsicle Games, a game development studio based in the Philippines. He has worked as an animator, web designer, and college instructor, but he continues to dream of writing for a living. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @jrevita.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]