If the name Lauren Groff sounds familiar, that might be because her latest title, Arcadia, appears on oh-so-many Best-of-2012 lists. I admit I haven’t yet read Arcadia (it’s high in my ‘must-read’ pile), but if I have the option among an author’s titles, short stories are usually my first choice.
Just as I clicked ‘on’ knowing nothing more than the lauded reputation associated with Groff’s name, I hope not to dampen anyone else’s eyebrow-raising, shudder-inducing surprise factor. That means you might want to stop here, or you’ll have to risk even the bare minimum being too much …
In “Lucky Chow Fun,” the only girl swimmer on the high school team watches as the discovery of a human trafficking operation destroys the idyllic haze that protected her small town. Swimming transforms the legendary real-life 12th-century lovers, Abelard and Heloise, into 20th-century “L. DeBard and Aliette,” an Olympian and his teenaged wheelchair-bound protegé. In “Majorette,” the oldest daughter in a dysfunctional family finally finds comfort, stability, and lasting happiness. Dysfunction ceaselessly controls the relationship between two intimate friends in “Blythe.” Always maintaining distance, the ex-pat wives bear witness to the slow destruction of “The Wife of the Dictator.”
A professional storyteller becomes the wife of a childhood friend in “Watershed,” only to have her narrative cut short. In “Sir Fleeting,” a Midwestern farm girl reinvents her own personal narrative to eventually match, even surpass, that of the glamorous playboy who appears in and out of her life. In “Fugue” – so aptly named as the most intricate story in the collection – disintegrating relationships overlap and overpower. And, in “Delicate Edible Birds,” again, the lone woman among men, this time in a pack of war correspondents during World War II, falls prey to inhumanity.
All nine stories later, I know I chose remarkably well! [Stuck in the ears – narrated by Susan Eriksen who’s amply capable of multiple nuanced voices – the collection makes for mesmerizing running/walking/laundry-folding company; you’ll just keep going in order to listen!] From absolving to traitorous, from desperate to destructive, each story is a complete narrative to absorb, appreciate, and ultimately admire. Now, Arcadia, here I come!