“Seek to encapsulate Florida in a single narrative, and you’ll find yourself thwarted,” Lauren Groff writes in a review of Kent Russell’s In the Land of Good Living. In the book, Russell and his friends walk from the northwest corner of Florida’s panhandle south to Miami’s Coconut Grove, learning the state’s lore and teasing apart “the accepted story of Florida” from “the actual—far darker—story.”
Take Walt Disney, for example. Economic stress after the Second World War degraded his work into bland, mindless comforts and theme parks, Neal Gabler argues in Walt Disney. Racism pervades many Disney films. And the amusement parks have again veered into financial precarity during the pandemic, leading the franchise to furlough 43,000 Disney World workers. Hiding under the facade of a glorious natural landscape, climate change poses an even more existential threat to the state. As Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South demonstrates, racial injustice and economic inequality fuel environmental disasters that endanger Gulf Coast residents and their homes.
Uncovering such dark truths is not easy. As the characters in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing grapple with history, the novel exposes both the pain and relief of unearthing the past. Joan Didion’s South and West, “a story that is self-consciously not a story,” raises the even more fundamental question of who has the power to tell these stories. Considered in concert, these books examine some of Florida’s stories more carefully and lead to a richer understanding of the state, the country, and the nature of storytelling itself.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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