There’s so much pain, terror and love in this story, it’s exquisite. We find ourselves on the run with a woman fleeing her abusive husband. It’s clear that if the escape is not pulled off precisely, if she doesn’t manage to slip away with her children in tow, he will murder her. The narrator is the granddaughter of the story’s brave protagonist, and is retelling the tale as passed down to her from her mother. It’s a beautifully written and touching portrayal of a mother staying strong for the sake of her children — styling her hair though her face is battered, smiling though her husband knocked out her teeth. It’s a tragic, heartbreaking piece of work that highlights the reality faced by many women the world over. I can’t fangirl hard enough over Lauren Groff at the moment — my love heart eyes pop out on their stalks when I read her work.
First published in The New Yorker, January 25 2021, and available to read online for subscribers
I knew I had to include a story by Lauren Groff in this personal anthology because her level of narrative control and respect for her characters as people has stood out to me as I have read stories that influenced my own. But also, at the level of history as it impacts individuals, and for the way it dissects how much patriarchal perspectives survive even in the most extreme circumstances – this is just a great read. Lauren Groff never forgets the reader in how she writes, in terms of creating genuinely suspenseful stories even as her attention to language could not be more diligent or (often) lovely. I strive to have both these elements in my fiction – page-turning as well as crafted at the sentence level – and I was thrilled when some of the reviews of my collection called it compulsively readable. That sense of momentum for the reader is everything.
First published in Glimmer Train 70, Spring 2009. Collected in Delicate Edible Birds, Hyperion/Windmill Books, 2009
This was pressed on me by a different writing teacher, Derek Palacio, a fine novelist and generous teacher I was lucky enough to spend time with recently at the University of Michigan. How he anticipated my mood quite so precisely would be worrying if every parent hadn’t felt like Groff’s narrator at some point. Suffice to say, her unnamed mother opens by saying she has somehow become a woman who yells, and, because she doesn’t want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, she laces on her running shoes instead and heads out after dinner for a walk. And if that doesn’t have you immediately clicking on the link, or heading to buy her collection, which is jammed with other joys, then you probably aren’t a parent, which is fair enough, except doesn’t everyone yell, parent or not? Through the narrator, we meet an entire neighbourhood, studied, at a distance, as the woman paces the streets. Groff’s language is visual, her images striking. It’s a story to read and re-read and then read again.
First published in The New Yorker, July, 2015. Collected in Florida, Cornerstone Digital, 2018. Read it online here
A mother takes her young sons to France to escape the Floridian heat of August. She believes the trip will release the writer’s block she’s experiencing, like a fish bone in her throat. Also, she hopes that the boys will pick up French the way they pick up dirt. The mother’s expectations, drawn from memories of a youthful summer spent in France, contrast both subtly and harshly with the reality of their adventure. I love how the writing balances the ferocity of maternal love with the banality of everyday tasks and the relentless thought-processes and decision-making it requires. Groff peels back the surface of this steely, independent mother and invites us to relate to the neuroses and unexpected joys that come with parenthood. But, you don’t have to be a parent appreciate it; ultimately, it’s a story about ambition and outlook altered by time and changed circumstances.
First published in Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3, April 2017 and available to subscribers to read online here. Collected in Florida, Riverhead/William Heinemann, 2018. Picked by Clare Rees, who is a graduate of the MA Creative Writing: First Novel programme at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. She is a copywriter by day and a writer of fiction by night, and is currently working on the first draft of her second novel.