I'm really not a fan of the short story and I seldom read them, but, of course, I would make an exception for the author of Fates and Furies, one of my absolute favorite books from recent years.
Groff's latest book, Florida, is, in fact, a collection of short stories, not all of them set in Florida, but all of them have a Florida connection and they have the Florida atmosphere - heavy, oppressive heat that infuses a sense of dread. The atmosphere in all of the stories is experienced by a series of women characters, and yet, in a larger sense, they all seem to be the same woman.
This woman is alone. She is single, in some cases a single mother usually of two children, or she may be married but, for some reason, the husband is generally out of the picture. Events are experienced through her eyes and her emotions alone.
The woman has no name but she is furious (somehow recalling Mathilde of Fates and Furies). She is furious about the way we live, the abundance and waste, the artificial environment of our lives. Moreover, she is furious about the expectations which society puts on women to always be flawless in all aspects of life, to be excellent lovers, friends, wives, mothers, sisters, and to do it all effortlessly. Never let them see you sweat!
Each of the stories contains a threat or a menace, often from Nature. There are hurricanes, floods, the smell of rot caused by constant humidity and heat; there is the sense that there is a very large cat hidden just beyond the trees and shrubs and watching you, always watching. And, of course, there are snakes.
In a story entitled "Snake Stories," Groff writes: "Walk outside in Florida, and a snake will be watching you, snakes in mulch, snakes in scrub, snakes waiting from the lawn for you to leave the pool so they can drown themselves in it, snakes gazing at your mousy ankle and wondering what it would feel like to sink its fangs in deep."
And again, in a story called "Ghosts and Empires," the woman "can't stop reading about the disaster of the world, the glaciers dying like living creatures, the great Pacific trash gyre, the hundreds of unrecorded deaths of species, millennia snuffed out as if they were not precious. I read and savagely mourn, as if reading could somehow sate this hunger for grief, instead of what it does, which is fuel it." I feel her.
And finally, in the last and longest story, "Yport," she writes: "She can't stop the thought that children born now will be the last generation of humans...She feels it nearing, the midnight of humanity."
It is a bleak view of the world and of humanity in which there is something off-kilter in the ecosystem and it is humanity that has unbalanced things. Still, we see that Nature is fighting back against the Anthropocene and attempting to reassert its primacy, just as every woman in these stories is fighting back against the human-made patriarchy that attempts to stifle them.
Wow, that woman can write!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars