Despite its departures from Groff’s earlier work, 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 ... Taken together, the stories have the feel of autobiography, although, as in a Salvador Dali painting, their emotional disclosures are encrypted in phantasmagoria. Fates and Furies spelunked into characters’ psyches, while Groff’s short fiction projects psychology outward, externalizing dread, pleasure, and innocence in feral cats, jasmine, and cygnets ... Groff has always been a sentence-level writer, and the sentences indigenous to Florida are gorgeously weird and limber ... The author practices a kind of alchemical noticing that destabilizes reality and brings the outside world into alignment with characters’ inner lives.
Groff bestows the tales of threatened kids with the surreal sheen of fairy tales ... The stories that remain in the safety of the upper middle class are weaker and tend to run together, like outtakes from an unfinished longer project. They share a wry, elliptical voice like that of Rachel Cusk, whose work often springs from a similar autobiographical bent ... While these stories don’t always achieve the psychological depth of Groff’s novels, there’s serious pleasure to be had in her precise descriptions of landscape ... Her characters may complain, but Groff is clearly drawn to the state’s bizarre lushness. With this collection she stakes her claim to being Florida’s unofficial poet laureate, as Joan Didion was for California.
Groff’s environment is so sentient it seems to breathe; smells are 'exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.' But her characters are passive, watchful, having long ago learned the futility of fighting the elements. Florida, in Florida, is more than a state. It’s a state of mind. It’s an encumbrance, drowning bodies in humidity. It’s a violent partner, constantly erupting ... As a collection, Florida is as eerie and ominous as it’s exquisite ... Existential anxiety pervades the collection ... And yet Groff provides occasional flashes forward that stave off despair, giving some reassurance that a few souls might make it after all ... Groff’s stories, turbulent and enthralling, are...'dazzled by the frenzied flora and fauna' of Florida, hyperalert to its dangers, and charged by its vitality.
Though Groff moves adroitly through an impressive range of lives, times, and places, the stories often seem propelled more by a supercharged pathetic fallacy than by action and character. The storming, punching, chasing rain alone displays a frightening autonomy, while the landscape and fauna seem to make metaphor on a monumental scale ... The pages are full of cascade, swamp, and drift; everything and everyone seems on the slide ... the reader senses that the refuge of the mind has been invaded, and is beginning to flood.
The eleven stories in this collection not only capture...cultural identity, but they also overflow with imagery so powerfully tangible that it’s hard to believe the humidity and rainstorms aren’t truly escaping from the page to touch you ... Groff writes Florida into the plot as a character unto itself. There is an undeniable agency as hurricanes rip through towns and catapult people, trees, and buildings through the air. The state is oppressive in its heat, demanding to be felt and feared. And most of all, it is remembered and longed for, by every character—especially those who try to escape ... These stories, each a bit stranger than the last, are deftly accomplished through Groff’s perfect command of prose ... If Florida needs a guidebook for the uninitiated traveler, Groff’s Florida can be a shining light.
Florida feels like a clever and bold title to me ... [it] sells and oversells Groff's new publication ... an uneven collection ... The pieces (one doesn’t want to use the word stories here, or not always) are sometimes more fictionary (to use Tom Paulin’s word), sometimes less so; the wilder, more strenuous ones are usually the weaker, and end up merely irking the unflapped, flapped-at reader. Read here, in situ, it seems, in patches, an adorably local book. A selfie stick of a book ... Groff writes under pressure to make event, to make drama, to make fear. The reader feels this, continually, sympathises, and is puzzled ... Certainly, the book gives voice to the ambient fear that these days gets slathered over everything in America ... There are several references to ‘bad men’ in the book or ‘possibly terrible men’, but there aren’t any bad or possibly terrible men in it ... the supposed victims here are far more competent and alarming and capable of inflicting damage than any of the agencies of their looked-for doom.
Florida is filled with brooding, inventive and often moving short stories—and I say this as a critic who has admired the architectural complexity of Groff's work in the past but also found it somewhat chilly. Here, she is more generous about opening up her character's emotional lives. In Groff's trademark zigzagging storytelling style, revelations ricochet between pages — and sometimes even within single sentences. ... Lots of things go south fast in the stories collected in Florida—like marriages, careers and the weather—but throughout, Groff's gifts as a writer just keep soaring higher and higher.
In this superlative collection — seriously, there’s not a dud in the bunch — Florida is a 'damp, dense tangle. An Eden of dangerous things.' It also becomes a stand-in for everything from the class divide to an uncaring universe to environmental collapse to personal entropy to the glory of the natural world ... In lieu of an omniscient commentariat, Groff proffers events so terrifying as to be almost supernatural. Waters churn. Houses collapse. Antediluvian horrors prowl the dark. Such threats require her characters to confront the truth of their existence ... With this book, Groff has joined the annals of great 21st century Florida fiction: Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, James Hannaham’s God Says No, and John Brandon’s Citrus County. Having followed an astonishing, astonishingly accessible novel with such an outstanding, accessible collection, Groff is surely poised to topple the tiny monkeys in charge of deciding that the perceived realm of the feminine isn’t sufficiently deep.
When I finished reading Lauren Groff’s 'Dogs Go Wolf' in the New Yorker last year, I had two simultaneous reactions. One was immense relief that this devastating story about two little girls left alone on an island was over. The other was the compulsion to teach it immediately to the students in my introductory creative writing class, because it was that good — so precisely detailed in its strangeness, so beautiful in its atmosphere of dread, so fine an example of what a story can do and be ... Groff’s desire seems to be to show — in a frequently funny, sometimes painful and always deeply sensitive way — that women and children are often stronger than we tend to think, and that the Earth is more fragile than we usually allow ourselves to understand.
'We need to constantly push against the narratives we are told to swallow,' Groff said in a New Yorker interview last year. This is what she shows in story after story: a heroic pushback against the way we live now, against waste, against the artificial environments in which we find ourselves maintained by corporations, but equally against the pressures on women to be flawless, effortlessly excellent mothers, wives, sisters, lovers, friends, within this dire state of affairs. Groff’s lyrical and oblique stories catch these women in the midst of becoming aware of their complicity in perpetuating these narratives – to which their response is to walk, flee, or conversely refuse to budge ... Though they are written in a moodily realist mode, the stories are poised just this side of dystopian fiction. The end of the world, or of life as we know it, hovers somewhere in the not unimaginably far-off future.
'An Eden of dangerous things.' Those last two lines sum up the Florida that provides the setting for most of these 11 finely crafted stories. Groff isn’t much interested in the beaches and theme parks; she’s focused on life beyond the boundaries, physical and emotional. Paradise is no paradise without peril, so every garden must have its snake — especially in Florida ... Some of the stories focus on other characters. 'At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners' is a virtuoso performance, a man’s life story with as much plot and detail packed into its 15 pages as you’ll find in many novels ... Groff is adept at portraying people in desperate straits, recounting how their humanity is stripped away — but not entirely.
Alligators, panthers, snakes and the state’s often vicious, climate-change-induced weather butt up against the wilderness that lives inside of people: their surging-strong emotions and the inevitable tide of their realizations. This creates a compelling meld of the metaphysical and the physical, with Groff’s keen eye infusing everyday particulars with a sense of peculiar magic that evokes both the smallness and urgency of our concerns. Groff’s characters—mainly women—are thoughtful, searching, and frequently unsettled, but the stories never feel weighted down by their yearning or sense of melancholy. Instead, her people find meaning and odd, ballooning respite in moments of impending doom ... This is mesmerizing storytelling from a consummate writer with insight and vision to spare.
The stories have a nearly zoological fierceness ... this new collection is her deepest immersion in the state where she has lived with her family for well over a decade, in the inland city of Gainesville. It’s a headlong plunge ... But as I read, I found that the book operates something like Christine Schutt’s feral 2003 novel, also named Florida—so much so that I wondered whether Groff’s title was a kind of tribute ... Groff’s Florida may do the same thing for its readers: surprise and menace us, fascinate and sometimes frighten us, and leave the whole world fuller than it was before.
Every novelist is required to have a feel for busted relationships. But Groff has proven to be particularly expert and inventive on the subject ... From the first line of “Florida — “I have somehow become a woman who yells” — it’s clear that Groff is still on-brand. Her writing about relationships rarely sticks within the narrow, Updike-ian confines of domestic dysfunction, though ... Groff’s favored stylistic tone to describe these predicaments is straightforward but moody and metaphorical — magical realism without the sparkle and sense of wonder. But she also has a gift for mordant humor.
The atmosphere of anguish is so overwhelming that it feels as if you might suffer from heatstroke or get carried off by a 100-mph storm wind. You’re helpless to the power — the sheer virtuosity — of Groff’s evocative prose ... This is an author who knows how to immerse her reader; but a depth of mood doesn’t always translate to a depth of narrative ... No story flails, but the collection’s grueling darkness proves limiting: Surprisingly, Florida seems like our best evidence yet of Groff’s unparalleled gifts, while simultaneously an indication of what can weigh down her work.
As each story goes on, the tension mounts unbearably. Reading them, you feel as though you are being slowly smothered, that the air around you is so thick and humid—so Floridian—that it is impossible to breathe ... This is an eerie and unsettling read, one in which the world is more porous than it appears and the land is always oozing and seeping into our rational, ordered lives. It’s hard to pick up and impossible to put down.
In these 11 stories, Florida is not necessarily the setting or the subject, nor the sordid punch line it’s often made out to be. Instead, Florida is the thing that Groff’s fly-wing delicate characters can’t escape ... most of Groff’s characters fail to get too far from who and where they no longer wish to be. They are (deliberately) too empathic, handicapped by their hypersensitivity to beauty and filth, and they tend either toward hedonism or hibernation but cannot find a place between ... Though the emphasis on embodied experience certainly charges the stories erotically, it does not make them prurient. Instead, they have the bewildered innocence and wide-eyed wisdom of a child who sees things exactly as they are—as bad as they look, or more beautiful than older eyes can be bothered to see.
Groff's language is, as always, gorgeous and precise. Her ability to map the inner contours of characters who seem to exist entirely in extremis — and, almost entirely, within a fragile shell of feigned competence and normalcy — is remarkable. Her Florida is a frightening place that bends (solely through the eyes and experiences of her characters) into a discomfortingly modern Southern Gothic tradition. Her stories — all of them — are haunted. There are always extra eyes somewhere off in the dark ... What haunts every line of 'Above And Below' is the inevitability of it. It stands as the summation of Groff's entire tone: This idea that storms and panthers and violence and love and weariness are all out there. That women are all going to take their share. That life, maybe, is measured in the ration of misery that you take and the grace with which you suffer it.
The first four stories in this collection are as good a run as I’ve read in any collection in years. They are immersive and moving and startling. Reading them, you enter a dream state that is an exact match to finding oneself lost in the Everglades. And reading them, you might indeed think this is just a book about Florida. But remarkably the collection takes on more and more weight as subsequent stories shift into different gears ... it is not so much that these stories are about Florida—but rather here Florida has become a synecdoche for the United States. A place of beauty and horror that feels murderous ... A place, and a feeling, many an American will recognize.
It’s a testimony to Groff’s artistry that these stories can be at once satisfying while tantalizingly incomplete ... That mix of fear and intimate knowledge allows her to look at the state clinically, showing it as a place that is alternately seductive, brutal, and hard to escape, where warm sun gives way to dark predators ... As powerful a sense of place as Groff is able to provide, it’s a shame that she doesn’t venture further in her exploration of the state ... Florida is a state of wildly different ecosystems, both natural and cultural, and Florida is at its best when staying within its borders. Groff was never going to give readers the full story of what life is like in the Sunshine State, but this collection offers a new way to be a visitor.
In 11 electric short stories, the gifted Groff (Fates and Furies, 2015, etc.) unpacks the “dread and heat” of her home state ... These are raw, danger-riddled, linguistically potent pieces. They unsettle their readers at every pass ... A literary tour de force of precariousness.