by Lauren Groff

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

Lauren Groff’s Florida is a collection of eleven short stories which mostly take place in the state of Florida. The themes of motherhood, womanhood and reality tie them together.

The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is about a mother who goes for a walk in her Florida neighborhood so that she doesn’t become the mother that yells at her kids. She leaves the bedtime routine to her husband, who she notes “does not yell.” As she walks, she looks in her neighbors' windows, as she does every night. She feels she has come to know them, and it is depressing, in a way. She sees and feels their sadness as a reflection of her own.

In “Dogs Go Wolf,” two sisters are left in a cabin without food, water, or electricity on a fishing island. The story details their attempt at survival despite an incoming storm, an attempt which parallels the one they encounter in their daily life.

In “Above and Below,” a student is living out of her car after losing her graduate school funding and accumulating debt. She and her boyfriend have broken up, and she finds herself essentially homeless. She is reading Middlemarch until it is stolen. Even though she is no longer a student, she returns, hoping to be noticed, wondering if her family will look for her.

“At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” is about a young boy, Jude, who lives with his father and loves books. His father is obsessed with snakes, and Jude’s mother has up and left them. Later, stuck in a canoe and deaf, Jude is visited by the spirit of his father.

"The Midnight Zone” begins with a panther moving around a cabin where a mother is vacationing with her two sons. While her husband is out of the cabin, she falls off a stool and hits her head. Her sons try to keep her awake by detailing facts they’ve learned from TV. Her husband returns and is concerned about her—throughout the story, we understand that the mother fears her own mortality.

In "Eyewall", a woman tries to ride out a hurricane in her home, despite her neighbor trying to get her to leave with him. She is confronted with her past in the form of the ghosts of the men in her life: her old boyfriend, ex-husband, and father. The neighbor, meanwhile, is killed by the storm.

In "Yport", the mother from “Ghosts and Empties” walks around France, dwelling on her surroundings and thinking of her children. She is preoccupied, almost obsessed with thoughts of climate change, and she fears that her children will be the last children on the planet.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1760

Author: Lauren Groff (b. 1978)

Publisher: Riverhead Books (New York). 288 pp.

Type of work: Short fiction

Time: Present day

Locale: Florida

Florida, author Lauren Groff’s newest collection of short stories, explores dread and time through the lens of the state of Florida.

Lauren Groff is best known for her best-selling novel Fates and Furies (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. President Barack Obama named it his favorite book of 2015. The book follows the story of Lotto and Mathilde, a couple whose marriage is told in the manner of a Greek tragedy. The first half of the novel tells Lotto’s story, with parenthetical interjections from the “fates.” The second half, wildly divergent in tone, is told from the perspective of Mathilde. Florida figures into that book as well. Overall, Fates and Furies is emblematic of Groff’s style: unruly narratives built by precise and vivid sentences.

Groff published her first book, a novel titled The Monsters of Templeton, in 2008. It is a fantastical, generational tale about her hometown, Cooperstown, New York, and is inspired by the nineteenth-century writer James Fenimore Cooper. The novel won praise from Stephen King and award-winning short-story writer Lorrie Moore. Groff next published a collection of short stories titled Delicate Edible Birds in 2009, which was followed by a novel about a girl growing up on a commune in the 1960s titled Arcadia in 2011.Courtesy of Penguin

In her 2018 story collection, Florida, Groff explores the sweltering backwater of her adopted state, a place she evocatively describes as an “Eden of dangerous things.” Most of the eleven stories in the collection take place in Florida, and all of them are gravitationally centered there. In “For the God of Love, For the Love of God” and “Salvador,” characters travel the world on borrowed time, knowing that they must soon return. Groff’s Florida is beautiful but unkind. It is elemental, a wild and deadly place. Her characters do not so much live there as they are locked in a constant battle with Florida’s oppressive heat, sinkholes, alligators and frequent, obliterating storms.

In “Dogs Go Wolf,” two young sisters are abandoned on a fishing island. In “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners,” a boy named Jude grows up in Central Florida, in a swamp house teeming with snakes. But for an unnamed mother, the central character of five of the stories, the danger is more difficult to quantify. The character is a lot like Groff herself, a novelist with two young boys. In “Ghosts and Empties,” the first story in the collection, the woman takes long, nightly walks to stave off her anxiety. “I have somehow become a woman who yells,” she says. Passing the variety of twilit life on the street, she worries about poverty, racism, climate change, and raising good sons. Those fears are so intense in “Flower Hunters” that she burrows into herself, at the expense of her friends and family, only finding solace in a book by a long-dead naturalist. In “The Midnight Zone,” an unseen panther prowls her holiday cabin, as she lies, incapacitated, in bed with a concussion: the personification of dread. In “Yport,” the collection’s last and longest story, Groff writes of the mother: “She can’t stop the thought that children born now will be the last generation of humans. . . . She feels it nearing, the midnight of humanity. Their world is so full of beauty, the last terrible flash of beauty before the long darkness.” © Megan Brown

Katy Waldman, who reviewed the book for the New Yorker, described it as “a psychogeography of Florida, exploring both a state in the union and a state of mind.” Each individual story represents the wilderness of a character’s mind, and their realization of the ultimate fragility of human beings in an ancient, hostile place. But the totality of Florida is Groff’s most impressive achievement. The stories, even the ones that feature the same unnamed mother character, do not cohere narratively, but rather come together in images—storms, injuries—and form. As Sophie Gilbert wrote in her review for the Atlantic, Florida “isn’t a short story collection so much as an ecosystem.”

Groff finds unity in her displacement of time. “Time is impassive, more animal than human,” she writes in “The Midnight Zone.” “Time would not care if you fell out of it. It would continue on without you. It cannot see you; it has always been blind to the human and the things we do to stave it off.” In “Ghosts and Empties” she writes of the moon, “we lonely humans, who are far too small and our lives far too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all.” With the immensity of time as her guiding principle, Groff plays fast and loose with human-scale time in her stories. In “Dogs Go Wolf,” her authorial voice enters at a climactic moment—will the sisters starve to death on the island or will be they be rescued?—to offer a glimpse of the sisters years in the future. She employs a similar sleight of hand in the transcendent conclusion to “Above and Below,” perhaps the collection’s best stand-alone story, about a graduate student who becomes homeless.

Awareness of time is at the heart of the stories, from “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners,” which describes, in overview, a man’s entire life, to “Eyewall,” in which a woman is visited by ghosts from her past during a hurricane. In “The Midnight Zone,” two days become a hellish drip of eternity. The anxious unnamed mother alternatively struggles with and embraces time; in two stories, she can only face the present by focusing on a distant past.

The concluding story of the collection, “Yport,” follows the unnamed mother and her two young boys—ages four and seven—to France. The mother professes to be working on a story about the nineteenth-century writer Guy de Maupassant, but her true purpose is escape from her overworked husband. The story is unusual in the context of Groff’s larger oeuvre, but also in the context of Florida. It lacks the fecund surrealism of her other stories but it feels brisk and refreshing set against the lushness of the Floridian world. The mother and her boys travel to Yport, a small town in Normandy. They eat pastries and admire the towering white cliffs, sculpted by glaciers millions of years ago. But the mother is unsettled. Each night, instead of writing, she knocks back two bottles of good, cheap French wine.

There is no real plot to the story. It radiates with warmth, though—Groff has a knack for finding humor in the children’s individual voices—and in it, she begins to zero in on her theme. A lot of the mother’s anxiety stems from the worry that she is a bad mother—is she too inattentive? Is she untruthful? Should she have let the boys play near that church when it was so close to the cliffs? At one point, she bristles when a smug British couple suggest that her youngest son is anxious. But in a more visceral sense, the mother struggles between two poles of reasoning—how much danger should she let the boys encounter on their own? How much danger can she reasonably protect them from? There are no answers to these questions. The only question that is answered in the story regards Maupassant: the mother and sons agree, finally, that they hate him. Given the evidence, the reader might agree. It would not be a spoiler to share the story’s enigmatic and powerful final image, in which the youngest boy holds a rock in his hand above his head, aimed at a snail. Like a distant and merciful god, he chooses not to throw it.

Florida, published in June 2018, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and was met with almost universal praise. Kirkus named it one of their best books of the year. In a starred review, a reviewer described it as a “literary tour de force.” A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that while “pessimism threatens to sink a few” of the stories, “Groff’s skillful prose, self-awareness, and dark humor leaven the bleakness, making this a consistently rewarding collection.” Waldman offered an illuminating and positive critique in her review for the New Yorker. “Despite its departures from Groff’s earlier work”—by which she meant a bolder surrealism—“the collection still conjures that feeling of when the floor falls out from under you; as in Fates and Furies, familiar, everyday life dangles by a thin string.” She even went as far as to describe the book as autobiography by way of a Salvador Dali painting. The “emotional disclosures,” she wrote, “are encrypted in phantasmagoria.” Gilbert, writing for the Atlantic, also noted that the book, at times, feels “intensely personal.” As a collection, she wrote, “Florida is as eerie and ominous as it’s exquisite.” She compared Florida to other writers who have explored their own psychogeography through the state, including playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the film Moonlight (2016). Author Christine Schutt, who reviewed the book for the New York Times, wrote that Groff was “a great storyteller,” and described the “11 dramatic tales” as “full of event and surprise, instruction and comfort.” She concluded: “Florida is restorative fiction for these urgent times.”

Review Sources

  • Elkin, Lauren. “Florida by Lauren Groff Review—Rage and Refusal as Earth Reaps the Whirlwind.” Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. The Guardian, 14 June 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/14/florida-lauren-groff-review-women-fury-eco-apocalypse. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
  • Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. Kirkus Reviews, 15 Apr. 2018, p. 1. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=129042834&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
  • Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. Publishers Weekly, 9 Apr. 2018, p. 49. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=128972421&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
  • Gilbert, Sophie. “Florida, Full of Dread.” Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. The Atlantic, 14 June 2018, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/06/florida-full-of-dread/562712/. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
  • Schutt, Christine. “Lauren Groff Reveals the Stormy Side of the Sunshine State.” Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. The New York Times, 17 July 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/07/17/books/review/florida-lauren-groff.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
  • Waldman, Katy. “Lauren Groff’s Stunning New Collection, ‘Florida,’ Unfolds ‘in an Eden of Dangerous Things.’” Review of Florida, by Lauren Groff. The New Yorker, 4 June 2018, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/lauren-groffs-stunning-new-collection-florida-unfolds-in-an-eden-of-dangerous-things. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.

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