17 September 2018
I had the chance to read Lauren Groff’s newest book, ‘Florida’, ahead of its publication. I opened the cover to this collection of short stories with the highest of expectations and never once did Groff let me down, though the stakes were high (what with Fates & Furies being my favourite novel of all time).
The first story, 'Ghosts and Empties', sets the tone perfectly: the oppressive, feral, beautiful, horrible Florida unfurling, a restlessness and fear of the future, and the pervasive and untraceable dread that permeates every story in this collection, each of its protagonists in varying but ultimately crushing ways. 'At The Round Earth's Imagined Corners' and 'Dogs Go Wolf' follow children, for the most part - and they are royally betrayed by the adults in their lives, left alone to pick up the pieces. 'The Midnight Zone', one of the collection's most unsettling yarns, followed by 'Eyewall' and 'For The God of Love, For The Love of God', each in their own stead portray lives fully formed crumbling, whether momentarily when injured in an isolated cabin, or suddenly and permanently by a hurricane, or slowly and imperceptibly by time's erosion and the gulf that grows between people.
'Salvador', traumatic and angry and anxious and stormy, sees the worst in mankind plainly and from a perspective that resists detachment. The sinkhole that steers the next story, 'Flower Hunters', serves as an apt representation for the reading experience, as water slowly slips through the cracks, as the foundations of calm are threatened. 'Above And Below' is a glimpse into a life after such a sinkhole has crept up and swallowed it whole, while 'Snake Stories', with its helplessly emotional ending, most strongly articulates the recurring theme of violence and injustices that are perpetrated against women, from Eve to the present day.
Finally, 'Yport' concludes the volume tragically and hopefully at once, bringing all the dread, the motherhood and resistance against misogyny, the chaos and uncertainty of our future, to a head: "She feels it nearing, the midnight of humanity. Their world is so full of beauty, the last terrible flash of beauty before the long darkness." And despite this, despite the social/political themes she considers (including but not limited to feminism, sexual assault, refugees, immigration, fascism, climate change, un-fulfilment and poverty), and the grave world her characters see, there is hope for the world, in the gravitational potential energy of a rock-as-meteor that may never fall.
This is a rare and phenomenal book, full of Groff’s signature electric writing, easily mistaken for the divine. I read this collection slowly, savouring each story as best as I could, left bereft and full at its final page. If you buy one book to read this summer I urge you to make it this one.