In her new collection of short stories, Lauren Groff brings 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.
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.