‘Ghosts and Empties’ by Lauren Groff

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

‘Yport’ by Lauren Groff

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.