Above and Below by Lauren Groff

This is short story #3. I’ve read a number of others but somehow the will to review them evaded me. “Above and Below” is the 9th story in the collection Florida by Lauren Groff. I have very much enjoyed Groff’s novels and look forward to reading Matrix her latest novel but have been slow to read her short stories. As always, I find it hard to persevere through a story collection as I lose momentum at the end of each individual tale. “Above and Below” was first published in the New Yorker and can be read here if you can get past the firewall.

“Above and Below” is the story of a young graduate student who loses everything in a short period of time–her boyfriend, scholarship and housing. At first she sleeps in her car and reads Middlemarch. Later, she loses both book and car, briefly shelters with a homeless family in their tent and finally in a squat house. As with some of the other stories in the collection, I can imagine Groff taking her own story (graduate student) and adding an alternative plot to that life. I suspect I’m right on this point because in an interview in the New Yorker about another story “Ghosts and Empties,” Groff acknowledges the story could be an essay but for some “big lies.”

The story is full of detail about the freedoms and indignities of the homeless life and, like most of her other stories, includes vivid details of her region of Florida. I half expected the main character to get attacked by an alligator but in the end she muddles through.

I’m puzzled by the ending which jumps forward in time and connects her homeless experiences with her childbirth. It almost seems like this is a modern trope of short stories and essays too, ending with final twist that intentionally refuses to tidy things up.

Read Groff’s stories and books. They’re great.

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