"Flower Hunters"
by Lauren Groff
Originally published in the November 21, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.

november-21-2016I always love it when an author, telling her story about a contemporary man or woman, ties them closely to some relatively obscure figure from the past. In this case, Groff’s protagonist is engrossed in the work of eighteenth-century naturalist William Bartram, so engrossed, in fact, that she’s essentially forgotten that it’s Halloween. And so she sits, alone in the house, reading, while her husband is out trick-or-treating with the kids. I haven’t finished the story yet, but it’s got my interest.

I look forward to reading your thoughts below!

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By |2016-11-14T13:52:50+00:00November 14th, 2016|Categories: Lauren Groff, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Joshua Smith November 15, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I didn’t know a blog like this existed! I listened to the story this morning and while my dislike of it may have been influenced by the author’s voice, it did absolutely nothing for me. Although like you mention, the Bartram throughline was quite inventive and beautiful. What did you think of the rest?

  2. Trevor Berrett November 15, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Hi Josh — and welcome!

    I’m afraid that I didn’t really care for the rest either. I was hoping for something a bit . . . more? I decided I needed to reread it before posting too much here because I’m not sure I was in the best state of mind for it, and I might have missed stuff due to my hopes that we’d have much more with Bertram. I wanted something by Andrea Barrett!

  3. David November 15, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Trevor, chances are good you didn’t miss anything. There is barely anything there to be missed. It’s a dud of a story. I haven’t liked her previous work either.

  4. Roger November 16, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    This is just poor work. It can’t even be described as a character study. Or even a character sketch. Because the protagonist is a type, not a character. The neurotic, anti-social, purportedly intellectual type. A female version of the typical Woody Allen character, without anything distinctive to make her alive on the page. Sure, she’s engrossed in reading the work of an 18th century naturalist, which I imagine is supposed to make her seem endearingly quirky. (“She’s most definitely in love with that dead Quaker.”). Aw, how adorable.

    This should not have been published in the New Yorker or anywhere else!

  5. Trevor Berrett November 16, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    It really is too bad. I have liked Groff’s work in the past — “The Midnight Zone” and “Ghosts and Empties” in particular — and I keep hoping it goes up to another level. I’m still at a loss with this one.

  6. Melinda November 16, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    The protagonist falls into a deep, dark depression, like a sinkhole, when her best friend, Meg, dismisses her. She’s alone now, seeing everyone and everything as empty, unreal: costumed trick or treaters, her family’s needs, the lollipops she’s giving out for Halloween. Even her new “friend,” William Bartram, is dead.

    On the other hand, Meg helps people, is nurturing, and carries her kids on her back. Meg filled the protagonist’s emptiness, her constant fear of impending doom. Now the protagonist uses dead William Bartram, his sense of exploration within a terrifying, uncivilized world, to fill her emptiness and help her move on.

    The protagonist can’t understand why Meg ended their relationship until she remembers their last conversation before the break. It was late one night when Meg was tending to her family, and the protagonist called her about the coral reefs being killed off by a whitish slime. Her constant sadness and fear become too much for Meg, and so she decides to distance herself from the protagonist. Shortly after that is when the protagonist takes up with Bartram to hunt flowers, or to find relief from her sinking emptiness. Although her depression, loss, is new to her, it’s not a new emotion; it’s been around since the beginning of mankind. “It was called the New World, but Puc-Puggy understood that there was nothing new about it, as almost every step we take over those fertile heights, discovers remains and traces of ancient human habitations and cultivation.”

    Once the protagonist understands her problem with Meg, the reason for their breakup, their differences, she’s ready to rejoin the living people in her life and allow them to help her out of her sinking feelings.

  7. Trevor Berrett November 17, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I assume that you enjoyed or at least admired this story, Melinda — am I right? If so, I’m very happy to have someone on here to counter what the rest of us have felt toward the story.

    I agree with your description of its movement, but to me it just didn’t do much artfully. I never felt it was doing anything with its concept.

  8. Melinda November 17, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Trevor, I’m impressed with Groff’s writing; she’s young and has already accomplished a lot in her writing career. I can’t honestly say that I agree with her content. In this story, the protagonist was way too self-absorbed. As a friend, to me, far, far too high maintenance. In real life, Meg would/should have dumped her much earlier. And her poor child waiting for her to appear at the school celebration. Mostly—my sympathies to her saint of a husband!
    Craft: she could have drawn more from the sinkhole and Bartram references. While I know both reader and writer want to “work” on a story, I felt Bartram, especially, remained too distant from the protagonist’s actions. Although she was supposedly in love with him, it didn’t feel genuine, and that kept the story’s purpose somewhat out of reach.
    Artfully: I think Groff makes—or at least attempts to—a good point. Life is richer when shared with friends, and when one of them goes AWOL, leaving little to no explanation for their absence, a lack of understanding and closure makes one feel a bit paranoid and unloved. (We’ve all been there.) That’s got to be an age-old, legitimate “problem.” But… I think she failed to make that point sufficiently heartfelt.

  9. Ken November 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    I am shocked to read the comments above. I thought this the best story in The New Yorker in about 6 months and was thinking that between this and the poetic stories by Kevin Barry and Anne Carson that the magazine was having a good run of stories (also last week’s by Hamid was good). On a personal level, as a worrier, I could relate to some of the solipsism of the obsessive fretter and hardly feel as condemnatory towards her as many above comments. I understand the lure of liquor and literature to escape and yet know also that one’s worries can invade even those sanctuaries. I though the short paragraphs were poetic in a good way and often insightful and I found the overall story very powerful. I liked how it interwove Florida’s past and present environmental situation, the worries of family, the end of a friendship and even the current keeping up with the Joneses stress of being a suburban parent of school age children.

  10. Ken November 24, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    What’s interesting is that what to me was interweaving many disparate and interesting ideas/topics was interpreted as throwing a lot of stuff out and leaving it undeveloped by others. That’s a common schism–what one person calls expansive, another claims is unfinished.

  11. Greg November 25, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Ken – I am in the school that Lauren tries too hard…she did the same thing in her last novel, “Fates and Furies”…..but boy, is she ever talented! And I appreciate your sharing of your personal traits in relation to the main character.

    Melinda – Thank you so so much for your full interpretations of what was being conveyed: emptiness, depression, escapism. And the quote explanation you provided let me access what Lauren wanted us to understand about the nature of depression.

    Speaking of quotes, these two are especially good:

    “She buries her failure at this, as she buries all her failures, in reading. ”

    “She would take a break from herself, too, but she doesn’t have that option.”

  12. Dennis Lang January 10, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Going back through some past “New Yorker” issues and just read this story on a windblown, snowy day here in Minnesota.

    It also resonated with me. It’s that sense of loss of connectedness, the absolute necessity of our social connections and friendships–the mirror for our place in the universe–how this establishes self-identity, and how easily we can feel cast adrift, lost in dire thoughts in its absence.

    Heavy stuff written in a very engaging (almost breezy) way.

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