Book Review by Kathy Megyeri

Author: Lauren Groff 2018, Riverhead Books 275 pages

American novelist and short story writer Lauren Groff must have been born with a golden pen in her hand as her works keep making it onto the New York Times Best Sellers lists. Her third novel and fourth book, Fates and Furies, was not only a bestseller and winner of numerous awards, in 2015 it was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Year and President Obama chose it as his favorite.

Now, storyteller, Lauren Groff, has unleashed her newest creation, FLORIDA. It’s a compilation of 11 well-crafted short stories, previously published elsewhere (Esquire, New York Times) and considered some of her finest.

Be forewarned: This is not your usual, shiny “Come and enjoy Florida’s sun, beaches, theme parks and recreational lifestyle,” PR piece. It’s a raw, bold look at the state’s menacing, damp and dark side.

It’s no wonder that the choice for the cover is a copper-toned Florida panther, a foreshadowing of a state that is still wild, always surprising and filled with crazy people and bizarre events.

Born in Cooperstown, N.Y. and educated at Amherst College and the University of Wisconsin, Groff is married, a mother of two, and has lived in Gainesville for more than a decade.

About her adopted hometown she writes, “I decided that if I had to live in the South, with its boiled peanuts and its Spanish moss dangling like armpit hair, at least I wouldn’t barricade myself with my whiteness in a gated community.”

In an interview with Esquire, she explains her reason for setting her stories here. “Florida is one great massive single place. It’s a collection of places all radically different from each other. Miami and Gainesville and the Keys and Tallahassee could be different states.”

She talks about the “queer dank musk of Central Florida where people decorated their yards with big rocks and believed they could talk to God.” As for Sarasota, it’s so posh and sedate, it “barely qualified.”

Groff explores the Sunshine State as a hot and dense “Eden of dangerous things.” True, there are snakes and plenty of other worries in this beautiful, alluring garden.

So reader, prepare to be unnerved by her works of “fiction” which, she says, offer her the “freedom to exaggerate, change, distort, and tell slantwise,” while also admitting in an NPR interview that, “there’s no such thing as fiction that is not
somewhat autobiographical.”

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