Thursday, March 7, 2019

What The Story Prize Judges Had to Say About Lauren Groff's Florida

Photo © Beowulf Sheehan
When the three judges for The Story Prize make their choices, they provide citations for the books. This year's judges were writer Jo Ann Beard, Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, and bookseller Veronica Santiago Liu. We include the citations in congratulatory letters we present to each finalist, along with their checks ($20,000 to the winner, $5,000 to the other two finalists). To protect the confidentiality of the judges' votes and the integrity of the process, we don't attribute citations to any particular judge.

“Groff's collection is a truly immersive experience—each story builds upon the last, without being expressly linked, until by the end, the reader experiences the book the way you might experience Florida. Fierce and almost fully deconstructed now in its beauty and awfulness.  Amid the merciless sun like ‘hot yellow wool,’ the dense heat, the humid tangle of vines and mosquitoes, the elusive silkiness of a panther, and the cool slither of reptiles, Groff's characters emerge from their landscape fully imagined. There are imperiled children, a lost and hopeless little dog, circling ever wider until it dissipates altogether, a woman with head trauma and spectacular visions, another woman lost to others but still vivid to herself who nearly drowns in a rainstorm, a mother who dislocates herself to Paris, her sons glum at a French carousel, their mouths rimmed in green pistachio ice cream. Frilled lizards and a black raptor that falls out of the sky. Groff's dark wit and her vivid and precise language make each story into a strange, familiar world, and the cumulative effect is as staggering as the Florida sun on a summer afternoon.”


“Lauren Groff's Florida is that rare creation: Each of these stories offers a complex, distinct world with its own carefully composed melody, but they’re also tuned to vibrate in response to each other. Even her final, longest story, set more than 4,000 miles away in Northern France feels at once a striking departure and a perfect companion to the earlier pieces.

“Groff understands these young women, wives and mothers struggling to survive and thrive in America’s wild and febrile environment, and she writes with such empathy that we come to know them, too. Peril hovers over them all—and crashes down upon some. They live in a rapidly warming climate that produces increasingly chaotic weather. They confront threats that we imagine we’ve eradicated— nightmarish creatures of the swamp— and animal spirits of the human heart that we pretend we’ve tamed. And many of these women are caught between conflicting demands: for strength, for softness, for independence, for affection. They are smart, determined people, sorely tempted to despair, sometimes lashed to their lives only by the love they feel for their children.

“Indeed, the real triumph of this collection is its sustained tension between dread and determination, conveyed in prose that never discloses its own complexity. Florida is the work of a mature writer beyond any need to impress us with her stylistic flourishes. Groff tells these stories in clear, deceptively transparent lines laced with insight, wit, and muffled terror.”


“Lauren Groff is exceptional at creating atmosphere: settings heavy with heat and vegetation, yet harboring chilly layers never far from the surface. Every story in Florida is delicate with danger. Yet the danger doesn’t always arrive, isn’t always meant to arrive—or is it? We join as readers holding our breaths at these near-climaxes left unrealized, a state mirroring the moments in daily life when confrontations are avoided or averted, or when fear paralyzes. Like Amanda in ‘For the God of Love, for the Love of God,’ we are held at the point when something announcing itself, ‘in the very back of [the] head. . . . almost arrived. . . . [is] almost here.’ And we are given space to ‘let it step shyly forward into the light’: the potential, not just of that lurking danger, but also of hope.

“As I moved from story to story, I imagined a bird’s eye view of a spiritual map of Florida, with a reader cam swooping down suddenly into scrub, to a lake’s surface, to a roadway to nowhere at the opening of each new narrative.”