Jill's take on Florida by Lauren Groff
If I’m to be honest, I bawk at books of short stories, I’d really rather read novels. I feel like I get hooked into a short story and then whammo! It’s on to a new one. I’ve just gotten into the one and now I need to let go of what happened there and then move on to something else. I’m a total mono-tasker, so this quick shift can be hard for me. Unless, the short story itself is all wrapped up at the end and I don’t feel like I want more.
When Zac brought Florida, a book of short stories, over to me in the bookstore, I immediately made a sound and undoubtedly said, “you know how I feel about these.” He urged me to give it a chance and try it out. He thought I would like them. So I put my preconceived notions aside and started reading the first story in the book.
Within a few pages I was totally engrossed, exactly what I look for on these little taste testers in the bookstore. We decided then and there, this book needed to come with us.
It took me a bit to get around to reading, Florida, but once I did, I did with such voracity that it took me no time at all to complete. The descriptions of places within Florida were so dead on that I was feeling the humidity and the dank smell associated with it. Things just felt hotter and more claustrophobic because of it. The stories sort of fly all over the place but have a central theme of all taking place in Florida. There is one story that takes place in France, but the characters are from Florida, so that makes it ok.
Graff, repeats only one set of characters in several of the stories showcased within the book. A mom and her boys appear several times and always in rather precarious situations. One that leaps to mind is being alone together in a cabin and a calamity befalls the mother. Another is their trip to France and all that goes wrong during that time. You never quite feel like the mom is really all that interested in being a mother but then she has these moments of light about how magnificent she finds the two boys. Maybe that’s how parenting goes, all light and love one minute and dispassionate neglect another.
I absolutely loved the stories in this book and would highly recommend it. The characters, the places and the scenes felt so real, it was as if I was there witnessing the events. The stories in Florida are so vividly written that you’ll find yourself thinking about them long after you’ve finished reading. I wonder what that mom and two boys are up to now?...
Zac's take on Florida by Lauren Groff
I don’t have the same problems with short stories as Jill does, although I find it difficult to write about a collection of them, or a series of them. Do you pick one and talk about it? Do you talk about all of them? What if they have nothing in common, no common thread?
To be honest, I had forgotten that these were short stories when I started reading them. I read the first one and then wanted more. I wanted to know what happened to that woman wandering the streets at night. Those humid and glowing summer streets. But I switched onto the next story and was like…wait just a minute. This is DIFFERENT. Oh. Right. Short stories.
I’ve had to come to terms with Florida (the place) over the course of my life. My dad moved down there and retired and then his marriage dissolved and then he my grandmother moved down there and eventually died in a retirement facility. My brother was fleeing hurricane Ivan and wound up in Florida and hasn’t left. Personally if I’m fleeing a hurricane, the dead last place I would settle is Florida.
My mom went down to visit my brother and never left. She died in hospice there in 2015. So to me Florida is a place where people go to die. But I’ve come to terms with it. I don’t hate it as much as I once did. It has its charms. There are places I love a lot more, of course. But just like you can’t choose your relatives, you can’t choose where they live!
For the record, I’m proudly NOT from Florida, despite all the family that gets trapped down there and all the times I visit.
That said, much of this collection rings true, and Groff seems to view the state with the same level of distrust and dislike that I do, so for that alone (and the brilliant writing) it is worth picking up. It’s always good to know there are other people out there who dislike something as much as you do, right?