Florida is the first Lauren Groff book I have read. It won’t be the last. The book is a collection of short stories linked together by, fittingly, by the idea of the state. Florida - the weird, oddball Florida that makes the state its own Fark category - is at the center of it all.
I am no fan of Florida the state but I do love the South and I always enjoy a story with a strong sense of place. The further north you travel in Florida the more Southern the state is and Groff clearly knows this truth. Florida, its teaming plants, its steamy, thick air, and its oddball ways are the character that is consistent across all of the these stories in this gem of a collection.
The stories are more descriptions of events in time and space than they are traditional narratives. The characters who exist are well-developed, not always likeable but Groff is sympathetic to them and their humanity and, consequently, so is the reader.
I am not usually a fan of short stories, though some of my favorite authors (Pam Houston and Bailey White come to mind) are short-story writers so maybe I am just particular about short stories. Groff’s collection will go on that list of likes. Like Houston and White, she can turn a beautiful phrase and there are dozens in this collection:
“…I decided that if I had to live in the South, with its boiled peanuts and its Spanish moss dangling like armpit hair, at least I wouldn’t barricade myself with my whiteness in a gated community. Isn’t it…dicey? people our parents’ age would say, grimacing, when we told them where we lived, and it took all my willpower not to say, Do you mean black, or just poor?”
“On my nighttime walks, the neighbors’ lives reveal themselves, the lit windows domestic aquariums.”
To describe an incommunicative father and his leery son , Groff writes, “language wilted between them.”
Of a women remembering fragments of poems, she writes of “a strange, sad poem, Blake and Dickinson and Frost and Milton and Sexton, a tag-sale poem in clammy meter…”
Florida itself is in the language of this book’s dangling Spanish moss, aquariums; wilted, clammy, and thickly humid.
There are 11 stories in Florida and I treated myself to one each morning over the last days of May, as the weather finally warmed up enough to be comfortable out on the front porch in the early morning. I consumed them with my morning coffee and each made a companion for my busy days. When I lay my head down at the end of each full day, the thought of a new Groff story come the morning passed through my weary mind. It was - and is - something good to anticipate.