22 Jun 2018

what I’m reading: florida & the isle of youth

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

The world is on fire. It’s hard out there if you’re a decent human being. It’s even harder if you’re a marginalized one. In these truly frightening times, I find it hard to create because all I keep thinking about is the prescience of Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale, a PayPal customer service rep being okay with sending me an email that ends  in “God bless,” and thousands of children wrenched from their parents and a part of this country that serves as a literal parrot of Fox News. Most of us are coddled by our blindness and privilege, but that’s what they want. They want you to feel helpless; they feed off of it–the temporary limitations of our power. Don’t let them. Let rage be your guide, someone writes on Twitter. Use your bodies, your voices, your dollars, and ability to vote in EVERY single election, regardless of how small. We can’t afford to be complacent. We can’t afford to think that the unthinkable would never happen.

In her recent newsletter, my friend Hitha wrote that she limits her consumption of Twitter to 30 minutes a day and relies on a few trusted sources of news to keep informed and current. In recent months, I’ve pared down my social media usage substantially. I deleted my Facebook account for good. I’m forcing myself to cease the mindless scrolling that serves to pull you away from the things that matter and stew in rage unproductively (I’m TRYING, but it’s been hard). For the most part, I focus on my work, the things that are in my control right now, and finding some space to get centered and calm because 24/7 rage is unproductive.

To that end, I’m reading. A lot.

It was sort of serendipitous that I fell upon two remarkable story collections centered in Florida: Lauren Groff’s Florida and Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth.

When I first read Groff’s Fates & Furies, I fell in LOVE. The lushness of her writing, the fact that she can turn a single sentence into a hurricane (per a New York Times review), and the precision of her vision–all of this put my heart on pause. As a writer, I’m inspired by this level of mastery. In her latest limber collection, Florida is wild and unruly. From the snakes and palmettos to the relentless heat and tangled flora–something stirs just below the surface and the stirring is as persistent as the heat. I loved how Groff balances the menace and beauty of the state. From failed marriages to emotional and physical disconnection, Groff’s characters are for want, they’re endlessly searching for something.

Two young girls, abandoned by their elders, become resourceful foragers on a deserted fishing island. A novelist whisks her two young sons away on a last-minute trip to France in an effort to start research on a book about Guy de Maupassant but instead falls deeper into isolation and despair. A woman braves a hurricane, alone, and is haunted by her losses. A homeless former professor wanders the streets searching for sustenance in all its forms. Rarely do I love EVERY story in a collection. Usually, there is a slew of dim lights amongst the burning stars, but Groff’s was so breathtaking and haunting, that I couldn’t put the book down. Isn’t it a luxury to lose yourself entirely within the confines of a front and back cover. If you buy a collection this year, let it be this one. 

I’ve known Laura van den Berg socially for quite some time and I’ve been an ardent admirer of her work. Last year, I read her fantastic novel Find Me, and while I was deep in my latest book purge I discovered her collection–one I hadn’t read for some reason–and I curled up and got lost again in the lush southern landscape. Like in Groff’s collection, van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth is populated by women yearning for uncomplicated lives when their current existence is a fall that feels bottomless. A couple, en route to their honeymoon in Patagonia, experience a crash landing and an injury that follows the wife for the remainder of the story. Nursing her pain, the wife looks her husband as if it’s the first time she’s seen him. An avalanche of doubt about her love and life looms large over their holiday. Two hapless sister detectives finally reunite with the real-life mystery surrounding their father. A seventeen-year-old daughter spends her nights as a partner in her mother’s second-rate magician act, pilfering money for customers to move to Hollywood only to discover the lies and magic can be two sides of the same coin. Twin sisters play the trading places game to learn the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.

If you have the time, space, or luxury to get lost for a little while–especially when the world feels aflame–I encourage you to check out these two wonderful collections.

 

 

Full disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post. 

2 Comments

  1. Melissa F. wrote:

    Love Lauren Groff’s writing. FLORIDA is in my pile of library books (like you, I’ve been immersing myself in reading lately). Definitely try DELICATE EDIBLE BIRDS, her collection from 2009.
    The Isle of Youth is a new-to-me title — sounds wonderful.

    Posted on 6.23.18 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Thanks for the tip, Melissa! I’ll definitely check it out. You’ll love Laura’s writing.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Posted on 6.23.18 · Reply to comment

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