Saturday, January 22, 2022

Short Stories Give Readers a Dark Look at Florida


The other words Groff uses to describe Florida: mold, slime mold, humidity, rot, gators, feral cats, tent cities, and snakes. LOTS of snakes.

“Of all the places in the world, she belongs in Florida. How dispiriting to learn this of herself.”

There are a number of books centered in and around Florida that do a wonderful job of making our residents quirky yet lovable in their quirkiness. Lauren Groff’s short story collection “Florida” takes a different tact, where the ominous aspects of the state (Snakes! Sink holes!) are accentuated by a cast of characters one airboat ride from sadness and despair. Not every story is set in Florida but those occurring elsewhere feature characters from Florida.

Three stories tackle hurricanes: In “Eyewall” a woman decides to ride the storm out and is visited by people from her past as her house is torn apart. “Salvador” finds a woman seeking refuge in a grocery story with the sketchy owner. But it’s “Dogs Go Wolf” that is the most affecting – two little girls are left to fend for themselves on a remote camping island that has a lot of bugs and one very nasty dog. The resiliency of Florida-born kids is on full display in this story.

In “At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” we watch as Jude’s life possibilities shrink along with the swampy land owned by his father. In the end, the small slice of land left is as much a statement on Florida’s dwindling natural resources as it is on Jude’s life.

“For the God of Love, For the Love of God” is notable as one of the few stories where all the characters have names. Set in France, self-absorbed adults dance around sickness and infidelity with a poor, ignored little boy left to provide heart and clarity.

“Above and Below” is about a woman who chooses homelessness because she can’t ask for help.

The rest of the stories feature a female recurring character. As with many of the stories in “Florida,” we never learn the name of the woman. We know she is a mother because she has sons who are referenced through different variations of “son,” “older son” and “younger son.” We know she is married because she talks about her “husband” or her son’s “father.” This woman is the speaker of the opening quote and if you can’t tell, she’s pretty unhappy. Even when she talks about how much she loves her sons it is with a hint of desperation. And if you can’t tell, she also doesn’t like Florida very much.

And that’s what I was left with from “Florida.” I don’t think Groff likes Florida very much. Our recurring character blames her angst on Florida, as if a change of scenery will make her happy. The cheating husband in “For the God of Love, For the Love of God” can’t wait to escape his wife and “Florida and its soul-sucking heat.” The other words Groff uses to describe Florida: mold, slime mold, humidity, rot, gators, feral cats, tent cities, and snakes. LOTS of snakes. Groff must really be afraid of them because they appear over and over and she makes it seem as if they more numerable than mosquitoes or palmettos. As you know, they are not.

Groff is a good writer and I completely understand that dark stories are trendy. But I have to say I was a bit put off by the Florida descriptions. I couldn’t decide which came first: characters so miserable in their life it made Florida miserable to them OR Florida is just a miserable place and that is why their life is so miserable. This is especially true with our recurring woman. Regardless, neither scenario did a whole lot to endear a reader to the State of Florida. All I could think is “things aren’t that weird and depressing here.” Then I would come up with a list of list of wonderful things not even mentioned mostly because they were too happy and the theme of these stories is not “happy.”

Now this is just my take and you may read these stories and find them fascinating. Isn’t that why we read reviews and join book clubs? It’s fun to delve into other’s interpretations and viewpoints because we may see the book in a brand new light. Indeed, I read many reviews of “Florida” that couldn’t stop gushing with praise. So as with all of my reviews – don’t take my word for it. If the jacket cover is still intriguing to you, go for it! And if you think differently, I would love to hear about it. I’m always open to exploring different ways to see things, especially when it comes books.

As for “Florida,” I can’t help but think the characters may look at our state differently if they spent just an hour on the beach gazing out on the crystal blue water. But then again, that’s my stress-reliever. What’s yours?

Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.

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