Halfway through Lauren Groff's novella "What's the Time, Mr. Wolf" in the current New Yorker, I was ready to anoint her America's best fiction writer.
Then the story flew off the rails. An implausible plot twist foundered in uncharacteristic overwrought language.
Yet, the saga of a wealthy New England family's decline displayed Groff's imaginative power and narrative virtuosity.
The New Yorker made a commendable editorial leap in publishing a novella, especially in the magazine's special technology issue, which showcases non-fiction. Groff also enhanced the magazine's sterling literary tradition with the appearance of her astonishing short story "The Wire" earlier this spring.
"What's the Time, Mr. Wolf" briskly reveals years of character development. From the broad focus of the main character Chip's childhood and deft portraits of other family members, Groff narrows the frame, slowing the cinematic momentum.
Known for her stories about Florida and people's interactions with the state's still wild places, Groff keeps exploring new imaginative landscapes.
"The Wind" told a heart-breaking story of a woman's futile attempt to escape from an abusive husband with her children, taking place in a small town in upstate New York. "What's the Time, Mr. Wolf" shifts from the world of Boston banking to the tribal violence of rural New Hampshire. In her fourth novel, "The Matrix," appearing this fall, she visits the 12th century world of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Groff misfires at the end of "What's the Time, Mr. Wolf," but even her misses show extraordinary literary ambition. Her readers can look forward to a remarkable career.