It’s no small thing that a Florida panther appears on the cover of Lauren Groff’s new story collection, and not just because the animal remains prominent, if unseen, in one of the book’s stories. The elusive, endangered creature represents a real and existential threat, “sliding through the trees” of a scrubland hunting camp where a severely injured woman and her two young sons wait in a cabin for help to arrive while hoping to avoid “potential death by cat.” But the panther also stands as a symbol for all that is menacing and unnerving about our state, even if — as Gainesville resident Groff surely knows — that peril is all too often sensationalized by residents and outsiders alike.
Groff, like many Floridians, is a resident outsider. Born in New York, Groff has lived in Florida for 12 years, though she recently told an Australian newspaper that “I actually don’t understand it as much as when I first got here because I had just made assumptions.”
That’s a modest claim, as Groff’s new book, aptly titled “Florida,” belies those assumptions and the gross and lazy stereotypes about the state lobbed by countless Twitter wags and touristic journalists. Instead, Groff, best-selling author of the 2015 novel “Fates and Furies,” evinces a deep comprehension and appreciation of the wildness that reaches from the state’s swamps and forests to inform even the most developed pockets of civilization.
Life cannot be tamed here, Groff suggests, and the characters in “Florida” are frequently trying to reconcile who they are with where they are. Families provide no escape from this dislocation, and even when Groff’s characters leave the country — one story is set in Brazil, another in France — they feel the state’s inexorable, unsettling pull. The book is no less difficult to resist.
Lauren Groff will appear 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables. Admission is free, but an RSVP is requested. Call 305-442-4408 or go to BooksAndBooks.com.