Florida, the newest book from the transcendent writer Lauren Groff (Arcadia, Fates and Furies), isn’t a short-story collection so much as an ecosystem. Within its boundaries, panthers prowl, snakes abound, Spanish moss dangles “like armpit hair,” children are abandoned to turn strange and almost feral, and storms batter so hard they leave bruises. The line between humankind and nature blurs. Groff’s environment is so sentient it seems to breathe; smells are “exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.” But her characters are passive, watchful, having long ago learned the futility of fighting the elements.
Florida, in Florida, is more than a state. It’s a state of mind. It’s an encumbrance, drowning bodies in humidity. It’s a violent partner, constantly erupting. It’s “a damp, dense tangle. An Eden of dangerous things.”
As a collection, Florida is as eerie and ominous as it’s exquisite. Groff, a native northeasterner, moved to the state more than a decade ago after her husband took over his family’s business, and her stories are suffused with a sense of wonder and dread regarding her new habitat. It can feel intensely personal in moments—five out of the 11 stories are narrated by an unnamed writer with two sons who perceives the landscape around her with acute anxiety. But Groff’s writing is so evocative and so sharp that Florida’s sense of apprehension becomes intoxicating. A hurricane, thrashing a garden, makes the lawn shiver and sends “unplucked zucchini swinging like church bells.” Children are “creamy as cheeses.” A woman, crushed by debt, is described as “slithering” out from beneath it, like a snake emerging from under a rock.