I’m going rogue and pitting Florida by Lauren Groff against Fight No More by Lydia Millet for this review. These are similar short story collections: heavily influenced by locale and featuring a recurring female character. While both have their merits, one world is better rendered than the other.
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A Tale Of Two Books
Both of these works are concept albums of localisation and character. Lauren Groff’s with, well…Florida and an intense nameless woman I identified way too much with. Lydia Millet’s playground is Los Angeles, her recurring character a realtor named Nina.
These collections lift the lid of adult experience and probe the interior. Groff seems a bit disgusted with what she finds. Millet is infinitely tender with her characters and their hapless lives. Her prose drips with pity, surveying the wreck modern life and technology has made of fictional lives. Lydia seems more of an enabler than an author.
Florida by Lauren Groff
I have somehow become a woman who yells, and because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner and going out into the twilit streets for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell.
Her stories are good, her characters are better; but the Sunshine State is the star of this work. If Groff isn’t listing landscape attributes in a narration arc then her characters are musing about them. There are a lot of poisonous snakes in Florida. And sink holes. Don’t forget gators. But the real dangers for Groff’s characters are closer: cheating spouses, faithless mothers, loneliness.
And what a cast of characters Lauren introduces. Jude in At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, a true swamp child; now an adult gripping hard-won tranquility. Two sisters abandoned on a coastal island in Dogs Go Wolff. A woman riding out a hurricane in a plantation house with literal ghosts from her past in Eyewall. Interspersed throughout the collection are snapshots from the life of a flawed, fierce wife and mother.
Fight No More by Lydia Millet
She wondered if people in the Caymans also kept pictures of themselves throughout their homes; themselves watching their guests. And watching them. Themselves, looking on happily as they lived. Reminding them to be happy, maybe. You’ve done it before. You can do it again!
Millet concentrates on the collective vapidness of Los Angeles. The weather and balmy air are barely mentioned; smart phone usage and petty vanities are the focus. In this way Millet explores what creates and destroys the American family/concept of “home.”
Fittingly anchoring the collection is the real estate agent Nina. We watch her experience the high of love and devastation of loss while navigating the Southern California luxury realty market. Her clients are insipid, self-absorbed, adulterous, suicidal social climbers. Millet wants us to understand that the monied scions are not the heroes of her book. It is the teen aged sons, elderly mothers, and sexually disenfranchised teenage girls that show kindness, despite (because of?) their lack of power. Lydia strives to paint their acts of kindness as heroism and succeeds.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Both collections are well written and deserving of praise, but…
Groff is the winner of this bout. An Ali impresario, she swoops like a butterfly and stings like a bee with effortless prose. Millet’s footwork is comparatively clumsy and leaden; she sweats in exertion. Lydia creates a web around her characters, working to interweave their lives; Lauren considers her characters’ mutual understanding of an unforgiving landscape enough kismet for one book. Though the method of Florida seems less work intensive than Fight No More, the results are more luminous.
With characterization the two authors follow this pattern as well. Millet wants her characters to be understood and eventually liked: they reappear in other stories after introduction, eager to show different facets of themselves. Groff doesn’t care if her characters are understood or liked. Her indifference charms in and of itself.
Have you read any Groff or Millet before? What did you think? What are some authors/books that you find similar? Let me know in the comments below.
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Check out my last book review here.