2.3 10
by Christine Schutt

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In this elegiac and luminous novel, which John Ashbery called "an amazing achievement" and Mary Gordon dubbed "a wholly original endeavor," Christine Schutt gives voice to the feast of memory, the mystery of the mad and missing, and the power of words.

Set in the Midwest, where Florida represents a faraway paradise, this novel tells the story of Alice Fivey.


In this elegiac and luminous novel, which John Ashbery called "an amazing achievement" and Mary Gordon dubbed "a wholly original endeavor," Christine Schutt gives voice to the feast of memory, the mystery of the mad and missing, and the power of words.

Set in the Midwest, where Florida represents a faraway paradise, this novel tells the story of Alice Fivey. Fatherless since she was seven, Alice is left in the care of her relatives at the age of ten, when her mother, whose "toenails winked in the foil bed we knew for Florida," is institutionalized. Alice is moved from place to place, remaining still while others try to mold her into someone different from her mother. She consoles herself with books and becomes a storyteller herself as she moves into adulthood, ever further from the desolation of her mother's actions and closer to the meaning of her own experience.

Told in brief scenes of spare beauty, Florida is a graceful and gripping tale of family, forgiveness, and creation of the self.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Florida represents sunshine and promise to most people but not young Alice Fivey. After her father's drowning death (his car swerved off the road one spring day), her mother is institutionalized in a sanitorium, leaving Alice to spend her formative years with relatives and to make sense of the world on her own. Less a novel, Florida is a series of thumbnail vignettes laced with pain. Alice uses "Florida" much as a worrying stone, turning the same themes and sores over and over, struggling to find comfort and understanding in events that are bigger than she is. Her mother's betrayal by withdrawal is documented in the lists and descriptions of possessions, most particularly clothes, that have been given away, taking with them Alice's memories. The novel leaves the reader in a curious state of knowing and not knowing, which, while an effective mirror of Alice's world, never allows the reader to empathize truly with the characters. One seems to be peering through disjointed prose pieces, trying to seek understanding of what really destroyed Alice and her family. Though it resonates with the pain of living with mental illness and as such may be of interest to those who understand its impact on families, as a novel it is of marginal interest to general library collections.-Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Often brilliantly written if far too brief first novel from Schutt (Nightwork, stories: 2000) about a dotty AWOL mother and her young daughter set adrift among rich relatives in the Midwest To narrator Alice, "Florida" signifies the hopeful period before her father died in a car accident, the dream of sunshine and good times that her flighty, pampered mother, also named Alice, recalled as she worked on her winter tan in a sunfoil bed. By the time Alice is ten, Mother has run through a succession of abusive men she refers to collectively as "Walter," and her own private Florida becomes the refuge she takes in the sanitarium for the rest of her daughter's childhood. Mother's desertion leaves Alice in the care of wealthy relatives who live in various houses along a lake in the chilly "land-of-lakes state." First, she's stuck with stingy, proprietary Aunt Frances and flashy, adventurous Uncle Billy; only their loyal uncomplaining driver Arthur displays real fondness for Alice. As a teenager, she lives in the fabulously appointed Big House of her aged Nonna, wheelchair-bound and mute after a stroke. Schutt's narrative is made up of elegant, sometimes maddeningly elliptical vignettes repetitively entitled "Mother" or "Arthur" or "The Big House." These furnish tidbits of memory about each character or place: Uncle Billy takes the family along "prospecting" in Arizona, Nonna reveals that she never had any room in her heart for her wayward daughter. Schutt has an ear for marvelous, startling sentences. "The brown yolks of his eyes had broken and smeared to a dog-wild and wounded gaze," she writes of one Walter; young Alice's high-school teacher, Mr. Early, the first to encourage her to write, isdescribed as "pinball body, angry nose and bald spot." Unfortunately, the underdeveloped second part, following Alice to New York to teach literature while Mother gradually deteriorates in homes in California, never holds together. Still, despite the weaknesses: a dazzling start for a writer we want to hear from again.
From the Publisher


"This slender book grows plump on language . . . Florida, like family, is a land where cruelty and tenderness can be nearly indistinguishable and the border between love and rage too often disappears."--Newsday

"The luxury of this debut novel is its rich, descriptive language. It's harnessed with powerful simplicity."--The Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

One winter afternoon—an entire winter—it was my father who was taking us. Father and Mother and I, we were going to Florida—who knew for how long? I listened in at the breakfast table whenever I heard talk of sunshine. I asked questions about our living there that made them smile. We all smiled a lot at the breakfast table. We ate sectioned fruit capped with bleedy maraschinos—my favorite! The squeezed juice of the grapefruit was grainy with sugar and pulpy, sweet, pink. "Could I have more?" I asked, and my father said sure. In Florida, he said it was good health all the time. No winter coats in Florida, no boots, no chains, no salt, no plows and shovels. In the balmy state of Florida, fruit fell in the meanest yard. Sweets, nuts, saltwater taffies in seashell colors. In the Florida we were headed for the afternoon was swizzled drinks and cherries to eat, stem and all: "Here's to you, here's to me, here's to our new home!" One winter afternoon in our favorite restaurant, there was Florida in our future while I was licking at the foam on the fluted glass, biting the rind and licking sugar, waiting for what was promised: the maraschino cherry, ever-sweet every time.

Meet the Author

CHRISTINE SCHUTT is the author of the short-story collection Nightwork. Her work, which has garnered an O. Henry Prize and a Pushcart Prize, is published widely in literary journals. Schutt lives and teaches in New York City.

Brief Biography

Place of Birth:
Watertown, Wisconsin
B.A., M.A., University of Wisconsin; M.F.A., Columbia University

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Florida 2.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 10 reviews.
Alexis_Altman More than 1 year ago
This is one of the worst books I have ever read. There is no character development at all. The only redeeming factor is that it is short. I would have stopped at page 5 except it was chosen for our book club selection. Alexis_Altman
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lead you out ofbthe airport smiling
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is no real plot and I only finished the book because I never leave a book unfinished.
maggiemoore More than 1 year ago
I thought the writing style was different. As in unusual but nothing wrong with that. These people should try reading Mercy by Dworkin if they think this was hard to read. This story came together in bits and pieces and it was worth the read. I have read less interesting books written in perfect style and content. I'd rather it have some flair and this one did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I almost finished reading this book. No story line. Poorly developed characters. It was short, but felt like bad assigned reading. Glad I stopped when I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While this could be semi auto bio it is not well written again reminded of my creative writing classes where we had to listen to the latest chapter of angst from others also looking for an agent this little before desk top self publishiing and affordable printer who perfect bound page counter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the writing style to be annoying and choppy...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nobody Floridian here?