Reviewed by Kai Jimenez
By Lauren Groff
288 pp. Riverhead Books.
We leave so much of ourselves in the places we visit, and most especially in the places we inhabit. Places hold so many stories left by transients like us — stories that become part of the places themselves, stories that someday someone else will feel in the air.
Florida is a collection of such stories, felt in the air and penned by New York Times-bestselling author Lauren Groff. Her fifth book is an anthology of eleven short stories of different people in different times and even places, but always with Florida at its core — not the Florida of twinkling lights and adrenaline machines of famous theme parks, but the Florida that is filled with creatures lying in wait in swamps and street corners, the Florida that is bleak and grimy and sweltering hot all the time.
We follow the days of characters with as little in common as young girls left alone in an island and a childless couple restless and dissatisfied with the pace of their lives. In every story, however, danger lurked in the shadows, both in the guise of natural threats like sinkholes, panthers, and hurricanes, but also human ones like the temptation of infidelity, a neighbor whose motives were never clear and likely impure, and the ghosts of old love and regret coming back to haunt us.
Florida might have been the shared backdrop, but the stories always revolved around human relationships, especially families, and all the baggage that comes with it. Groff’s talent for observing the quiet — but oh so human — things that usually slip us by is matched by the fascinating imagery of her writing with all the unexpected metaphors and clever jokes hidden in the prose. She articulates so precisely the struggles and cognitive dissonances that many of us experience but are unable to put a name to, and she nimbly identifies those crucial moments that change lives irrevocably — the same moments that the characters will only likely realize the importance of in retrospect.
Each piece read more like a vignette than a full-fledged short story, but they felt complete nonetheless. Each seemed like an almost voyeuristic peek into moments of vulnerability and desperation, of loneliness and fear, that all the protagonists felt in very different and nuanced ways. There was both too little and too much going on in each story, and Groff managed to tease the readers with just enough information about the many characters introduced to leave us wanting for more.
But if there is one thing (besides Florida) that truly ties the eleven pieces together, it is that impending sense of doom in the horizon. All the stories bring you to the precipice (of what, it is not clear) where you could either fall to your doom or take a few steps back to safety. This is a testament to Groff’s mastery of atmospheric writing; she was able to let the readers know for certain that something wicked this way comes, but without crudely divulging what or when. And what you’re left with is this unsettling and almost melancholy aftertaste that each story leaves in your mouth.
This is a book that demands a slow unraveling. I highly recommend it, and encourage readers to take their time with it. Despite its relatively few page count, it can be a little heavy for one sitting, and the undertones of dread that washes over you needs to be paced properly to be fully enjoyed. Still, I can safely say that these eleven are stories worth telling and worth reading.
Florida by Lauren Groff will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kai keeps an infinite fondness for curiosities under her pillow at night. She finds narratives and tells stories for a living, and is in constant search for fascination in worlds both real and imagined. You can find her on Instagram @rustwithstardust and on Medium @kai.jimenez
[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.]