Florida (Groff)

Florida: Stories
Lauren Groff, 2018
Penguin Publishing
288 pp.

In her thrilling new book, 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.

A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.

The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence.

Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive.

Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July 23, 1978
Where—Cooperstown, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Amherst College; M.F.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Awards—Pushcart Prize
Currently—lives in Gainesville, Florida

Lauren Groff is an American novelist and short story writer, who was as born and raised in Cooperstown, New York. She graduated from Amherst College and from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with an MFA in fiction.

Groff is the author of three novels. Her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton (2008), is a contemporary tale about coming home to Templeton, a stand-in for Cooperstown, New York. Interspersed in the book are voices from characters drawn from the town's history, as well as from James from Fenimore Cooper's 1823 The Pioneers, the first book in the Leatherstocking Tales. Fenimore Cooper set his book in a fictionalized Cooperstown which he, too, called Templeton. Groff's debut landed on the New York Times Bestseller list and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers.

Groff's second novel, Arcadia (2012), recounts the story of the first child born in a fictional 1960s commune in upstate New York. It, too, became a New York Times Bestseller, received solid reviews, and was named as one of the Best Books of 2012 by the New York Times, Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, NPR, Vogue, Toronto Globe and Mail, and Christian Science Monitor.

Fates and Furies (2015), Groff's third novel, examines a complicated marriage over the course of 24 years aas told by first the husband, then his wife. Like her previous novels, it, too, was published to wide acclaim, some calling it "brilliant," with Ron Charles of the Washington Post saying that "Lauren Groff just keeps getting better and better."

Groff has had short stories published in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Five Points, and Ploughshares, as well as the anthologies Best New American Voices 2008, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best American Short Stories—the 2007, 2010 and 2014 editions. Many of her stories appear in her collection Delicate Edible Birds (2009).

Groff is married with two children and currently lives in Gainesville, Florida. Groff's sister is the Olympic Triathlete Sarah True. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/22/2015.)

Book Reviews
Readers can practically feel the mosquitoes buzzing at their necks in stories Ms. Groff started writing a decade ago after moving to Florida.… In her stories, predators bite, hurricanes destroy and nature does not forgive.
Wall Street Journal

[Groff] stakes her claim to being Florida's unofficial poet laureate, as Joan Didion was for California,
Ron Charles - Washington Post

Superlative collection—seriously, there’s not a dud in the bunch.… Groff is an extra terrific writer, as ever.… Having followed an astonishing, astonishingly accessible novel with such an outstanding, accessible collection, Groff is surely poised to topple the tiny monkeys in charge of deciding that the perceived realm of the feminine isn’t sufficiently deep.
Boston Globe

[The stories] take on an inexplicably cohesive form with a sad-, beautiful- and naked-ness that reverberates in the mind long after the book is shut.
Atlanta Constitution-Journal

Groff is still on-brand. Her writing about relationships rarely sticks within the narrow, Updike-ian confines of domestic dysfunction, though. Even in short stories, she prefers broader canvases, and much of Florida is filled with hurricanes and other violent storms that run parallel to the personal crises she describes.…  Straightforward but moody and metaphorical—magical realism without the sparkle and sense of wonder.
Los Angeles Times

Groff’s desire seems to be to show—in a frequently funny, sometimes painful and always deeply sensitive way—that women and children are often stronger than we tend to think, and that the Earth is more fragile than we usually allow ourselves to understand.
San Francisco Chronicle

[T]ogether, the stories have the feel of autobiography, although, as in a Salvador Dali painting, their emotional disclosures are encrypted in phantasmagoria.… The sentences indigenous to Florida are gorgeously weird and limber.
New Yorker

Slime mold, a father killed by snake venom, a mother haunted by a deadly panther, and half-feral little girls abandoned on an island—these bizarre happenings could be set only in the Sunshine State, and be written only by Groff, the Gabriel García Márquez of Gainesville. Reading as required as insect repellent in a swamp.
O Magazine

Ferocious weather and self-destructive impulses plague the characters in this assured collection…. Groff’s skillful prose, self-awareness, and dark humor leaven the bleakness, making this a consistently rewarding collection.
Publishers Weekly

A frank, rambunctious, generous writer, Groff… provides slice-of-life reading, capturing the scents and sounds of her newly adopted state, Florida.… Well-observed, unexpected writing for fans and more.
Library Journal

(Starred review) These are raw, danger-riddled, linguistically potent pieces. They unsettle their readers at every pass.… And Groff gets the humid, pervasive white racism that isn't her point but curdles through plenty of her characters. A literary tour de force.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our talking points to help start a discussion for FLORIDA … then take off on your own:

1. Talk about some of the ways the stories, as a whole or separately, portray the state of Florida—sometimes, for instance, it is a "dense, damp tangle," or perhaps "an Eden of dangerous things."

2. (Follow-up to Question 1) How, then, might Florida, reveal the complexities of human life (or human psychology)—our desires, fears, sorrows, illnesses?

3. Although the stories in Florida are not quite magical realism, describe how they tend to blur what is real and what is imaginary.

4. Consider the appearance of the cougar at the beginning of "The Midnight Zone"—described as "the glimpse of "something terrible," "the darkest thing," which seems to portend the mother's cancer. What other symbols does Lauren Groff use in these stories that carry the weight of the human condition?

5. After reading this collection of stories, will you ever visit Florida again? If you live in the state, does Groff write about the Florida you know—do you recognize this Florida?

6. Which story is your favorite—and your least favorite? Do all the stories work, or are some less successful than others?

7. In "Ghosts and Empties," what stokes the wife's anger as she walks at night and peers into her neighbors' windows? When she enters the drugstore to buy Epsom salts, she leaves without buying what she has come for. Why? What does she mean when she says "I am not ready for such easy absolution as this. I can't"?

8. In "Above and Below," what prompts the graduate student to leave her life as a student and take up that of a homeless person? Is her decision an act of escape… or protest? Or is it neither? Perhaps it's something else.

9. Overall, how would you describe the tone of these eleven stories?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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