Florida by Lauren Groff

When I think of the American state of Florida, I think of Miami, Disney World, sun-drenched beach days and the Seinfelds living it up at Del Boca Vista. Florida, a new collection of short stories by Lauren Groff, presents us with a different side of the state, and it is certainly not of the sunshine variety.

Among the eleven electric short stories, Groff examines the state of Florida, which she now calls home and presents readers with tales of strangeness from the murky underground of the sunny state. Each story has a sense of dread, an almost expectant sense that something bad is about to happen right around the corner – or on the next page, as it were.

The main protagonist is Florida itself and the author weaves its presence in and out of the stories and captures its less visible other side, full of grittiness and struggle. In the last story, ‘YPORT’, my favourite, you can feel the humidity and desperation of a woman examining her looming future as a Floridian mother and wife. She decides to take her children to France, where she lived as a young student, in order to research the French writer Guy de Maupassant. She has already been stuck on this project for ten years.

There is also a strong presence of Mother Nature that hums through each story. It’s a clever way to remind and teach readers of the real-life threat facing Florida, with its rising sea levels and regular flooding.

If you loved Fates and Furies as much as I did (and remember it was Barack Obama’s favourite book!), then Florida will not disappoint you. Groff fans will immediately recognise her talent for stinging descriptions of characters, and for depicting the dread and loneliness of their lives. This collection is poignant and terrifying all at once.

Anna Rotar works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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Lauren Groff

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