By Lauren Groff
Read Nov 2019
In Florida, Lauren Groff provides the reader with unforgettable stories. This reader was often literally stunned by what the author was saying and how she said it. “Helene was in the viscous pool of years in her late thirties when she could feel her beauty slowly departing from her.” “…the moon really was laughing at us.”
Groff repeatedly engages time and the universe in her stories and requires us to face into the vastness of them in comparison with the finite period of our lives. One of her characters is overwhelmed with the state of the planet-climate change, volcanos, etc., and is concerned her children will be the last humans.
Although not a Florida native, Groff has lived in Gainesville, FL long enough to understand much about the raw Florida that is being turned into pavement and amusement parks, although even these can’t conquer hurricanes that are a staple of Florida. She sets one story in the midst of a hurricane. She sets another at an old hunting camp in a swampy region filled with many wild animals including snakes and a panther. In “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” she invokes both the reality of the propensity of snakes in Florida’s wilds and the reality of the impact of paving over the swamp on the habitat of these snakes and other creatures. Interestingly the pavement and buildings are those of a growing university; shouldn’t an institution focused on knowledge creation and dissemination be aware of the impact of loss of the wild? Two stories involve women who leave Florida’s blistering heat and humidity of the summer for tourist-free setting with milder climates and in so touches on an interesting reality of living in Florida.
At the same time, the stories draw us into the here and now of these characters. The mother who is so concerned about the planet forgot it was Halloween so didn’t prepare her children for it and doesn’t have a trick-or-treat supply at the ready. The woman living through the hurricane is confronted by visions of unresolved relationships from her past. The family vacationing at the hunting camp is clearly in distress. The mother whose herpetologist husband is fighting the university’s spread into the wild has to leave her son behind to escape the physical and mental situation her husband has created in the home. One woman who takes her children to France for a month in the summer to escape Florida’s heat is also escaping her husband’s focus on work to exclusion of the family. Interestingly she eventually decides she belongs in Florida, not France.
Although the stories have somewhat dark elements with respect to the fragility of the earth and the issues individuals must face daily in the midst of general decline around them of the planet, Groff provides three stories with children playing central roles that demonstrate there is hope in the long run. The children vacationing in the hunting camp deal with a calamity and compassionately care for their mother while waiting for help to arrive. Two children abandoned on an island in the middle of a swamp endure their situation and find a path to their salvation from their dire circumstances. The mother escaping Florida by a trip to France with her children to do research on a French author is refocused by her children on the role she plays in their lives and the impact they have on hers.
The story endings are purposefully not tidy. Rather they challenge the reader to pause and consider what really has happened, what that really means, and how the reader will go forward with this new perspective on the world and its inhabitants.
Groff has certainly gained a new fan who will seek to experience her other work.