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Florida

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Overview

Finalist for the 2004 National Book Award

Florida is the portrait of the artist as a young woman, an orphan's story full of loss and wonder, a familiar tale told in original language. Alice Fivey, fatherless at age seven, is left in the care of her relatives at ten when her love-wearied mother loses custody of her and submits to the sanitarium and years of psychiatric care. A namesake daughter locked in the orphan's move-around life, she must hold still while the seamstress pins...

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Florida: A Novel

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Overview

Finalist for the 2004 National Book Award

Florida is the portrait of the artist as a young woman, an orphan's story full of loss and wonder, a familiar tale told in original language. Alice Fivey, fatherless at age seven, is left in the care of her relatives at ten when her love-wearied mother loses custody of her and submits to the sanitarium and years of psychiatric care. A namesake daughter locked in the orphan's move-around life, she must hold still while the seamstress pins her into someone not her mother. But they share the same name, so she is her mother, isn't she?

Alice finds consolation in books and she herself is a storyteller who must build a home for herself word by right word. Florida is her story, recalled in brief scenes of spare beauty and strangeness as Alice moves from house to house, ever further from the desolation of her mother's actions, ever closer to the meaning of her experience. In this most elegiac and luminous novel, Schutt gives voice to the feast of memory, the mystery of the mad and missing, and above all, the life-giving power of language.

Finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a portrait of bravery and this is the portrait of an artist. When Schutt grinds her pen against the ground, we expect it to bleed." —Diane Williams, author of Romancer Erector

"Writing with razor-sharp observation, in Florida Christine Schutt has created an admirably precise, spare, and yet detailed portrait of the contingencies that give rise to a young girl's anguish and her stubborn endurance against all odds."
—Lydia Davis, author of Samuel Johnson is indignant

"Christine Schutt's sad and funny novel of a little girl adrift amid a group of childish adults has the same brilliancy of close observation that distinguished her collection of stories Nightwork. Everything the child sees is unstable, but the fixed intensity of her gaze grounds her chaotic home life and almost confers a logic on it. Florida is an amazing achievement."

—John Ashbery

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810151505
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine Schutt

Christine Schutt is the author of the novel Florida (Northwestern, 2004), a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction, and Nightwork (Dalkey Archive, 2000), a collection of short stories named by poet John Ashbery as the best book of 1996 for the Times Literary Supplement. Her work, which has garnered an O. Henry Prize and a Pushcart Prize, is published widely in literary journals. Her new short-story collection A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer is forthcoming from TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 2005. Schutt lives and teaches in New York City.

Biography

Christine Schutt is the author of a short-story collection, Nightwork, chosen by poet John Ashbery as the best book of 1996 for the Times Literary Supplement. Florida, her first novel, was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University and studied at Barnard with novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick. She lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.

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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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

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(1)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 8, 2011

    Florida -- at least it was short

    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

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2014

    No

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2014

    Child angst in fiction is not a form i like to read.

    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

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2014

    Eh

    I found the writing style to be annoying and choppy...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2014

    Eh?

    Nobody Floridian here?

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    Softvoice

    K.

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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