Title: Florida

Writer: Lauren Groff

Publishing House: Riverhead Books

Date of Publication: June 5th 2018

Rating: 5 stars

‘’It is terribly true, even if the truth does not comfort, that if you look at the moon for long enough night after night, as I have, you will see that the old cartoons are correct, that the moon is, in fact, laughing. But it is not laughing at us, we lonely humans, who are far too small and our lives far too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all.’’

Lauren Groff needs no introductions. Following the modern classic Fates and Furies, a novel so unique, so raw, beautiful and honest, she gives us the short story collection Florida. Eleven stories mirroring every human feeling, eleven bottomless wells of the complexity and darkness of our relationships, our perceptions of the concepts of family, womanhood, love, memory and sadness. Eleven testimonies of characters confiding in the reader. Eleven courses of threat, caution and bravery, set in the very particular state of Florida. Eleven snapshots of daily life hiding extraordinary situations. For all emotions are indeed extraordinary.

‘’The neighbourhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighbourhood unrolls atop the daytime one. We have few streetlights, and those I pass under make my shadow frolic; it lags behind me, gallops to my feet, gambols on ahead. The only other illumination is from the window in the howes I pass and the moon that orders me to look up, look up! Feral cats dart underfoot, bird-of-paradise flowers poke out of the shadows, smells are exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.’’

Ghosts and Empties: A woman goes for long walks every evening, observing the neighbours and the homeless, peering through the lit windows, contemplating on her own life.

‘’The silence was eerie because he remembered the lake as a dense tapestry of sound, the click and whirr of the sandhill cranes, the cicadas, the owls, the mysterious subhuman cries too distant to identify. He had wanted to connect with something, something he had lost, but it wasn’t here.’’

At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners: A moving story of a man fighting against his tyrannical father whose words seem to awake the darkness inside him. The story of the love and bond between a mother and her child, a tale of finding the light guided by your mother’s legacy.

‘’The animal was torn between his hatred of children and his hatred of the wild storm outside.’’

Dogs Go Wild: Two girls are abandoned in a remote island. A haunting story of childhood, abuse and the constant threat each woman faces on a daily basis from ‘’men’’ who believe they own our bodies, our minds, our souls.

The Midnight Zone: A terrifying story of a family in a campsite. When a terrible accident takes place, it is the children that must protect their mother.

‘’This house is old. It has lived through other storms.’’

Eyewall: As a terrible storm is raging outside, a woman’s house is filled with the shadows of the past. Her dead husband, her father. A brilliant story of womanhood, marriage, love, devastation and new beginnings.

For the God of Love, For the Love of God: The tender story of the vacation of two families and a wonderful newcomer. A hymn to the fellowship and understanding between women, set in the sultry countryside.

Salvador: A woman spends her holidays in a Brazilian town and has to cope with the implications of a very strange and stormy night.

‘’Something has changed in the air; there’s a lot of wind now, a sense of something lurking.

 The spirits of the dead, she’d think, if she were superstitious. The dark has thickened, and she hears music from the mansion down the road where every year the neighbours host an extravagant haunted house.

 She is alone, and no trick-or-treaters have wondered by in an hour, the white sandbags of candlelight have burned out, and the renters have all turned off their lights, pretending not to be home.’’

Flower Hunters: It is Halloween. In a quiet suburb in Florida, a woman is sitting in her porch, her sons wandering around on a trick-or-treat effort. Her mind tries to cope with time and the changes it brings, the breaking of a dear friendship, the acute feeling of loneliness.

Above and Below: The ordeal of a young woman who made all the wrong choices and is now facing poverty and humiliation. A story that I read as a cautionary tale, a chronicle of lives destroyed by the fickle, pseudo-romantic idea of being a vagabond. Thank you, I’m all for anything bohemian, but I’ll pass…

‘’Tell me. You think there are still good people in the world?

Oh yes, he said. Billions. It’s just that the bad ones make so much more noise.’’

Snake Stones: A woman helps a girl in dire need and receives no kind word or even a simple ‘’thank you’’. So, she contemplates on the presence of good and evil, of prejudice and racism, and the snakes in our minds.

Yport: The presence of Guy de Maupassant haunts a young mother. In beautiful, sensual France, she tries to enter his mind and, possibly, his stories. But in truth, I don’t think she actually knows what she’s looking for. This story is beautifully atmospheric but I found the woman’s views raging to the extreme, projecting modern ‘’values’’ to the past. It is not a conviction I follow or accept and my experience with the closure of the collection was less than stellar.

But it doesn’t matter. Florida is brilliant. A literary wealth to be discovered beyond the storms, beyond the lair of snakes and the threat of the alligators in the dog days of summer, in the first days of autumn.

‘’The dead need nothing from us; the living take and take.’’