This is the last post I plan to write for “Gherkins & Tomatoes.” At least for a long while. After almost 10 years, it’s time to fold up the tent, so to speak, and move on. Thank you, all of my regular readers, for stopping by, I’ve loved getting to know you and sharing opinions. And the odd disagreement.
Lauren Groff’s Florida shimmers under a very different sun from the one I see in vintage postcards. Her Florida reeks of damp, moist and saturated places, depths harboring spirits and serpents, lost souls young and old.
The state’s character – barmy and alien – and its shape – suggesting a certain bodily appendage – reveals a rather prehistoric nature.There’s the ubiquitous dwarf palmetto and the avocado darkness of alligators’ backsides, the feel of grainy sand on bare feet, while filmy Spanish moss flutters in late afternoon breezes, like an old witch’s tresses. An aura of Jurassic Park hangs heavy about the place, unleashing the feeling that the lush vegetation lies in wait to reclaim progress, to bury the arrogance of men.
In the eleven stories in Florida, Groff prods the dark underbelly of Florida’s mysterious and unpredictable geography.
Sinkholes form all across the state, and there’s one in Gainesville near where Groff and I both live. Called the Devil’s Millhopper, this particular place reminds me of moon craters. It’s deep. And dark.
Like the stories in Florida.
One of those stories haunts me now, as the sauna-like heat of a long Florida summer rolls over me. When I try to beat back the weeds nesting in my ferns and Confederate jasmine, I think of Jude, Groff’s main character in “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners.” Of how his Cracker house almost disappeared into the “hungry dark.” And how he almost did:
There was no wind, and the sun was already searing. The water was hot and thick with algae. A heron stood one-legged among the cypress. Something big jumped and sent rings out toward the boat, rocking it slightly. Jude tried to get comfortable but was sweating, and now the mosquitoes smelled him and swarmed. The silence was eerie because he remembered the lake as a dense tapestry of sound, the click and whirr of 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. (p. 40)
Nurturing noirishness, that’s the best way I know to describe Groff’s work in this mesmerizing book. There’s an elusive sense of the monstrous, of the unspoken “thing” that will get you if you close your eyes even for a second. A preternatural sense moves with along with the reader’s eyes, page after page. Groff is a master of evocative description. Even people who’ve never stepped foot in Florida will feel the steaminess, see the febrile sweat trickling and pooling under armpits.
Hallucinatory, that’s the word I’d like to throw out there in regard to Groff’s stories.
Monsters under the bed? Or not? Imagined? Or real?
In Florida, it’s hard to be sure.