Expansive and engaging, the stories of Florida explore the lives of women who feel trapped in the eerie landscape of the Sunshine State.
A collection of eleven short stories set mostly in the titular state, Florida examines the inner lives of young women and mothers afflicted by malaise, alcoholism, and, occasionally, despair. Recently shortlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction, the short story collection is the second of author Lauren Groff, who previously published Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories in 2009.
Abusive men, neglected children, unbearable storms, and the southern wilderness recur throughout the collection: the stories gathered here feel like variations on the same set of themes. “The Midnight Zone” centers on a young mother’s feelings of inadequacy as she tries to care for her two sons in an isolated hunting camp. In “Eyewall,” a woman is literally visited by the ghosts of men who have disappointed her, as a storm rages outside her home. The first and last stories, “Ghosts and Empties” and “Yport,” feature the same mother, and they chart her reactions to her town’s social decay as well as her attempts to salvage her family life. Groff has a real talent for portraying the subtleties of ennui and developing multifaceted women characters.
The craft of the collection is consistently strong. Groff writes lush sentences, full of palpable and unsettling images. Her stories move at a measured pace, and they end on notes of uncertainty that raise more questions than they answer. The author’s tendency to examine the same set of concerns from different angles connects each of her stories to the others, lending the collection a sense of cohesion. The stories of Florida feel close knit instead of monotonous, and they echo each other in thought-provoking ways.
I listened to the collection on audiobook, and while I didn’t mind Lauren Groff’s narration, the formatting was terrible. Each story is arbitrarily fragmented into several sections, which makes it incredibly difficult to pace yourself or have an idea of the story’s arc. I tried some of the e-sample on Amazon after I finished listening, and Groff’s precise but sprawling sentences also seem like they’re meant to be read.