I’d likely have a more favorable opinion of this book of short stories had she given it a title other than “Florida.” The stories that are actually set in Florida reveal few features of the state that have not been harped on and exploited before, or features that could be anywhere. Maybe the title came from a designated period in her writing life, being a FL resident and teacher and writer up in the northern central part of the state, where perhaps she wrote and bundled these stories and sees them as her “Florida” experience. Which is fine, but is the material representative of the state as a whole? No.
Ubiquitous reptiles, lurking gators, bugs, heat, and lots and lots of snakes. Yes. Stereotypical, but okay.
Hard times, odd characters, crazy-ass rainstorms. Yes. Okay. (although the best storm description occurs in Brazil (in “Salvador”).
Degenerate husbands and other male losers. To the point of grinding an axe. No. Please don’t identify my state with that sort of stuff.
Women being self-reliant and heroic (and adoring of children). Well, okay, but not when it’s excessive and at the price of all those “male losers.”
Mechanically, Lauren Groff writes like a seasoned craftsman. She weaves some great sentences into engaging sequences. She can build a great story. Problem is, some of her FL stories stop cold when they should keep going. Readers are left in the lurch at odd moments. Even so, the book – grim as it is – leaves impressions and causes an imaginative stir, at least in this reader.
Bad title is not a big deal. After all it’s only a book of short stories. Writers can find their fame more often by producing a good novel rather than in placing hyper-realism stories in the New Yorker. Believing this to be true with Groff (and always rooting for writers in Florida), I’m looking forward to reading her newest novel, “Matrix.”