By Becky Merilatt from Secret Garden Books in Seattle, WA:
Four years ago, I came back to work at the Secret Garden after spending a few years at home raising my two boys. My return to work also meant a return to reading, a practice that had nearly been lost to me while elbows deep in the early phases of motherhood. One of the first books I read after returning to work was Florida (Riverhead Books, $16) by Lauren Groff – a book of short stories. I had read Fates and Furies (Riverhead Books, $17) a few years earlier and had liked it enough to want more. It was a good choice.
“I have somehow become a woman who yells, and because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing my running shoes after dinner and going out into the twilit streets for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell.” It was the first sentence, and I was hooked. Groff writes about motherhood in an open and raw way, laying bare the anxieties of raising kids while the earth is warming, while the political climate is frightening, while you yourself are struggling to keep your head above the water. Motherhood had (as it does) changed my perspective on the world and Groff brought me back to the world of reading with so much honesty and empathy. Florida remains one of my favorite books to this day and I often find my mind wandering back her stories, thick with humidity, malaise, and melancholy.
Groff has earned my absolute trust as a reader. Her prose is unparalleled, her characters so nuanced and real. I will never forget Bit from Groff’s second novel, Arcadia (Hachette, $16.99). A small, sensitive boy (hence the nickname) being raised in a utopian community. His softness and deep empathy were such refreshing traits to come across in fiction and felt wholly earned. Bit, like Theodore Decker from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Back Bay Books, $20), is a hand-to-the-heart, big sigh character that I will forever love.
Matrix (Riverhead Books, $28), Groff’s latest novel, is a massive departure from what I had come to expect from the author. The first two sentences gave me the chills and I immediately read them aloud to my husband. “She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.” What follows is a genre-defying masterpiece– historical fiction, biographical, fantastical and pure poetry. It is an experience to read it. Trust yourself over to Groff, turn off the overly analytical side of your brain, enter the fog-covered fields surrounding the abbey in medieval Europe, watch as Marie takes the position of the prioress and transforms her abbey into a safe haven for women and children in a brutal world.
For her sheer ambition, her transcendent prose, her flawed and beautiful characters, her wildly imagined worlds, I will return to Groff’s books again and again. Give this woman a National Book Award already! (She is on the long list. See above!)