Florida: at once a real place and a state of mind

“Florida,” by Lauren Groff. Riverhead Books. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

The eleven short stories in this daring, luminous book reveal, in various and complex ways, the truth of the poetic adage in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” We carry our minds with us, wherever we reside. We can’t get away from who we are. Forget about blaming your troubles on your environment.

Lauren Groff photo by Kristin Kozelsky

The narrators in most of these stories, especially the recurring one with two small sons and only the pronoun “she” for a name, suffer from being too self-aware. They have expectations of themselves that sometimes seem imprisoning. They have intellectual and creative tools that are burdensome. They can wear their friends out by being unintentionally demanding.

They are lonely, and they are worthy.

If you are a person who often feeling threatened, imagine how much additional threat you would feel living in a place brimming with snakes and alligators, real and metaphorical sinkholes, and violent storms. A place like Florida.

Through the book, Ms. Groff builds conundrums of inner and outer weather, interweaving landscapes with emotional states. 

Ms. Groff understands North Florida communities like a native. She is alert to neighborhood changes – sometimes gentrification, sometimes something worse. The unnamed judgmental character who narrates the first story, “Ghosts and Empires,” is an evening walker who enjoys scrutinizing those she meets or merely sees or expects to see along the way. She measures her distance from those she knows and those who remain strangers, and she measures how quickly time is passing her by.

In another story, the author focuses on a young man, the son of a herpetologist, who has “learned how to keep a calm heart when touching fanged things.” Also, how to survive the distance between his mother’s and his father’s polar sensibilities.

Ms. Groff can pinpoint the loneliness and sense of isolation that breeds within members of the same families. And she is alert—makes readers alert – to such things as “how the screens at night pulsed with the tender bellies of lizards.” She knows how houses express themselves. Her imagery is consistently fresh, vivid, and unexpected. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 25, 2019 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions of Florida Weekly, and the May 1 Fort Myers and May 2 Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Florida 

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