All manner of ominous creatures crawl through the pages of Lauren Groff’s new short story collection: snakes drip from roofs, crocodiles lurk in swamps and lizards “frill their red necks and do push-ups on the sidewalk” or else “pulse their tender bellies against the screens at night.”
It’s a bizarre sort of tribute to her adopted state of Florida, where storms, sinkholes and constant, sweltering heat provide the backdrop to eleven stories about various, mostly unnamed misfits: the shy boy brought up by a severe, snake-hunting father, the heartbroken student who becomes voluntarily destitute, the lonely woman facing down a biblical downpour with a glass of wine.
That last one – 'Eyewall' – has a similar tragic-surreal air to it as John Cheever’s classic short story ‘The Swimmer’, and elsewhere there are shades of Alice Munro who Groff – like most modern America writers - has cited as an influence.
But there’s a reason the author of 2015’s best seller Fates and Furies (one Barack Obama’s favourite books, fact fans) is regarded as one of the most original voices in American literature today. She is one of those writers whose stories are so absorbing because she can do everything – dialogue, structure, the throb and hum of inner life – so brilliantly, you’re never jolted out of the action by a bum note or a wasted detail.
The result is a collection so heady and evocative, you’ll be wafting away imaginary heat waves and checking the shadows of your room for scaly threats as you read it, while Florida’s cast of lost, sad and sometimes cruel characters will stick with you far longer than that.
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