I stumbled upon the work of Lauren Groff in the mediocre anthology 'The Best American Short Stories (2007)'. In which was published an excellent short of hers 'L. DeBard and Aliette'. I was so impressed by that story that I decided to give this collection a read.
Before its arrival, I had high hopes for this work, but was ultimately left with a feeling of incompleteness and disappointment. Of the nine stories contained in this collected works all, with the exception of the above were really quite mediocre indeed. If one compares her to the master of the short story, Raymond Carver, Groff is really dwarfed into insignificance. Her language, her imagination, her insight into humanity, her characters, her space, her 'that which is left unsaid' are all really not yet fully developed, certainly not enough to warrant a book deal. I understand she is famous for the 'Templeton' series (which I have not read), and I cannot help feeling that she got this book deal on the back of that. The problem being, that the short story and the novel are two entirely different genres and disciplines, and just because you are competent in one area does not guarantee success in the other.
Groff's stories essentially suffer from the same malaise. The same inadequacies that just keep repeating, thus she is quite simple to critique:
i) She writes short-stories similar to a teacher of a creative writing does. ii) She is not a naturally gifted short-story writer - she comes across as quite formulaic and a little too 'try-hard'. iii) She has no clearly defining style. She has no originality per se. iv) She is not a particularly creative individual, and lacks the ability to hold and transport her reader. v) She is not very observant of humanity, she doesn't write human interaction and dialogue very well. vi) The whole pseudo-feminist thing is quite annoying, it lacks commitment and depth. It comes across more as a marketing ploy than a heartfelt political stance. vii) She doesn't work well with pace and timing, her writing lacks a complexity and variation of rhythm.
So, all in all a pretty bland offering, literary-wise. There is really not much one can say, that can't be summed up in the phrase 'not ready'.
Addendum. I should point out that through no (direct) fault of Amazon.com I was shipped two-substandard books. Both had not been guillotined correctly. The first I returned and the second I decided to keep - assuming they would all be the same. This is really a quality issue that the publisher's quality assurance people should have picked up and not something which should ever have reached the customer, unless it was via a 'bargain bin'.
I really enjoyed reading The Monsters of Templeton, so when I saw that Lauren Groff had released a selection of short stories I immediately ordered a copy. The hardback wasn't available at the time, so as I often listen to books in the car, I decided to purchase the audio book. I think that this was probably a mistake, as this collection of short stories didn't work very well in audio format.
The first story was very reminiscent of The Monsters of Templeton, and many of the characters shared traits with those found in her Templeton novel. The plot was mildly interesting, but wasn't anything special. The rest of the short stories varied in their settings, but concentrated on the mother-daughter relationship. I often got bored when listening to them, and found my mind wandering off to other places.
These stories, may be excellent, but I'm afraid they were let down by the narration. This isn't the fault of the narrator, I just think that this book wasn't suitable for reading aloud. I'd still be interested in obtaining a copy of the paperback when it comes out, to see if the stories work well in that medium, but for now all I can say is that I can't recommend the audio book.