Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Florida - Lauren Groff

Summary: The New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furiesreturns, bringing the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother. 

The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts 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, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: The premise of this book is that all of the stories are related to Florida. I find this to be fascinating, actually. I love the idea that each state has so much flavor and so much depth to it that a whole book of short stories could be published about it and each of these short stories could showcase a different part of the state. This should be a whole series, right?! Think how many opportunities for short story books this would offer to Groff. Time to get on that, Ms. Groff.

Now. With my previous paragraph you would think that each of these stories takes place in Florida. That is not true. Many of them do, but not all of them. The common thread is that the people are from Florida or heading to Florida or something where Florida is mentioned. Some of them actually have very little to do with Florida, which was somewhat disappointing because of the title and description of the book. It’s not that I was disappointed with the stories, I was just disappointed that the concept didn’t go the way I thought that it should.

The thing I found most interesting about a book with short stories about Florida is that it appears that the author does not, in fact, like Florida. Maybe she had some sort of misadventure there or has relatives she doesn’t like from there or maybe she just feels bad juju when she thinks about it. I would not say this is an ode to Florida, nor would I expect to pick this up in a tourist shop in Disney World.

The stories themselves are well-written, as one might expect from a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2018) and a Kirkus Prize for Fiction (2018). They are detailed and rich, and despite the fact that they are short stories, they are well-developed and leave an impression that I normally would only get from a much longer book. I think that it takes many authors a long time to establish a character, setting, and storyline that Groff did in just a short story. It really is a great book that way.

Did I like the stories? Well, sometimes I did. They were dark and as I mentioned before, not very flattering to Florida. I think that with my initial hopes of it discussing different aspects of Florida, I was somewhat disappointed. Having such different stories without the common thread of Florida actually made the stories feel quite disjointed. I would have liked more consistency. That being said, even though I know that my initial dreams of a book called Florida actually being about Florida (Why wasn’t it about different places in Florida? Like people in the Florida Keys who are obviously so different from those who live in the bayou or even the tourists who visit Disney World? I mean. These are some brilliant ideas I’ve got, right?!), I would have liked more consistency in the stories as a whole; something that connected them. Barring this, I would have preferred the stories have nothing to do with each other.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some sex and language in this book, although not much.

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