Review: Florida by Lauren Groff

36098092Verdict: Meticulously structured, deeply depressing, brilliant sense of place.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Published by Random House UK, Cornerstone, June 5th 2018

Genre: General Fiction, Short Stories

Find it on Goodreads.

Lauren Groff is a writer of rare gifts, and Florida – her first new book since her ‘clear the ground triumph’ Fates and Furies (Washington Post) – is an electrifying, expanding read.

Over a decade ago, Groff moved to her adopted home state of Florida. The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida – its landscape, climate, history and state of mind – becomes their gravitational centre. Storms, snakes and sinkholes lurk at the edge of everyday life, but the greater threats and mysteries are of a human, emotional and psychological nature.

Groff’s evocative storytelling and knife-sharp intelligence first transport the reader, then jolt us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, Groff pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury – the moments that make us alive. Vigorous, startling, precise and moving, Florida is a magnificent achievement.

Any book called “Florida” needs to be infused by a thorough sense of place and Lauren Groff does just that. I have been a fan since LOVING Fates and Furies a few years back and have been meaning to pick up more of her books and this very strong collection of short stories has cemented her place in my heart.

While not every story is set in Florida, Groff’s protagonists all have a connection to that place, a connection they sometimes strain against and sometimes welcome. Her protagonists are women, depressed and difficult and wonderfully flawed women, often mothers with a difficult and believable relationship to motherhood. I loved the way these women are allowed to be difficult while Groff shines an unflinching spotlight on them and their flaws and the way they are suffocating in their own skin. I adore that theycan be unpleasant while ultimately staying sympathetic. I do wish this unpleasantness did not always also show itself in a disdain for their own and other bodies. Once I noticed that I could not unsee it. I would have liked there to be more variety in their deepest flaws because as it is the fixation on (often overweight) bodies feels unkind and unnecessary.

Lauren Groff is in perfect command of her language; her sentences are sharp in the way that I like them to be in realistic short fiction (comparisons to Roxane Gay came to mind here and that is obviously one of the highest compliments I can give a short story writer). The stories are meticulously structured and surprising while her perfect tone is recognizable in all of them.

Now, excuse me while I buy everything else she has ever written.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone in exchange for an honest review.

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