on March 24, 2012
I haven't read a novel this involving and moving in a very long time. It's so good that I don't even want to say much about it; it stands on its own, as its own statement. I will say that for me the most impressive thing about the book is its vision. Spanning 40 years or so, it holds a taut center line, so that no matter where the characters go or what they do, the line keeps them in a defined orbit around the core of the book.
Lauren Groff is more than 20 years younger than I am. As I write this, I'm about the same age as the main character in the last third or so of the book. It's almost miraculous to me that someone who hasn't yet reached this age can so accurately peg the combination of nostalgia, bitterness, and regret of looking back at childhood, living in the present, and being uncertain about the future. There's more than a whiff of Peter Pan and Never Never Land in the story, and I mean that in a good way. On top of that achievement, Groff has also constructed a perfectly convincing bridge from a time most of her readers clearly remember to a time we can only imagine.
This is a quiet novel, without drama and histrionics. It's also highly literate and intelligent. Read it. You'll be glad you did.
on April 3, 2012
I enjoyed it immensely and the writing was lyrical and lovely. I would recommend this book.
I lived in a commune from the age of 17 to almost 30, so I have to add that fact to my review of Arcadia. I will tell you my thoughts, and they are sort of jumbled together, so it's not a "good" or a "bad".... First, the NAMES for things were soooo reminiscent for me! We had a Home Place (Arcadia is the fictional Homeplace). Our Hatchery was Arcadia's "Pink Palace" for where the babies were born. The Monkey Crew (ours was the Construction Crew) ... "Inside" versus "Outside"... I could go on and on. Basically, we had our own language, and so this fact of Arcadia was astoundingly reminiscent and immensely enjoyable.
I believe it is human nature to rebel against what you know, so I had a hard time buying into Bit's unwavering love and loyalty for Arcadia. All the kids that had been born in my particular commune hated living there with a passion. They hated being different, and they couldn't wait to be old enough to bolt. Of course, now that they're older, they do appreciate the sense of family that existed, plus the fact that they have so many brothers and sisters throughout their lives.
I had a hard time with the author's timing of things. Knowing a thing or two about communes, I didn't buy that Arcadia was going strong while Ronald Reagan was in office (circa early '80's). That was after Jonestown. I believe the concept of the hippie commune was on the wane during that time. And the non-self-sustaining issue was also hard to swallow. For a real commune to exist for so long, they would have had to be way more organized than Arcadia was. The book describes Hannah as being pissed off or depressed a lot of the time because there was no money and no food. No one would put up with that for that long, they'd just leave and go back to reality. Way too many freeloaders/hangers-on were depicted -- I know it doesn't work that way. Everyone has to pull their weight, and then some.
The fictional illness toward the end was just silly and served no purpose whatsoever. I felt the author lost her way with this story line.
Still -- an entertaining read that managed to capture a lot of the love/hate, push/pull and sheer physical discomfort -- alternating with occasional blips of ecstacy -- of communal life.
on July 13, 2012
I absolutely LOVED the first half or two-thirds of the story, when Bit was growing up in the commune with his friends and learning about the world at large and HIS world in particular. I thought Groff nailed it - the commune was universally recognizable for what it was, yet never seemed trite or predictable. And within that world, the characters were drawn clearly and specifically. She moved the story along beautifully, so that I scarcely noticed the passage of time.
But the novel ground to a halt once Bit became an adult in the city. I came galloping eagerly out of the first part of the book, and hung with it pretty well during his time as a professor and his troubling non-relationship with Sylvie. But oh my god, the story hangs up dreadfully somewhere in there and becomes annoyingly lyrical as all action nearly stops and Bit becomes almost a non-entity. I am in the final chapters of the book and almost can't stand to read it anymore. I hate to abandon a book I've enjoyed as much as the earlier part of this one, but I'm not sure I can slog through the conclusion. Such a bummer.
on March 13, 2012
An involving, lyrical novel, Arcadia is the story of a commune of 'the free people' in upstate New York, told through the character of the first child born into the community, Bit Stone. We see Arcadia grow and then thrive, largely through the efforts of Bit's parents and a handful of other free people who truly embrace the principles on which Arcadia is founded. Bit introduces us to the many colorful characters of Arcadia, first through the eyes of a child, and later through the eyes of an unworldly but somewhat mature adolescent . Inevitably, the commune is destroyed by too many interlopers and the fall from grace of its charismatic leader, Handy. One by one the free people abandon or are banished from Arcadia. What will happen to them, and especially Bit, in the real world?
The novel is beautifully written. People and locations are portrayed keenly, vividly. Tenderness, love, beauty, pain. It's all here, and more.
on March 13, 2012
I received an advance copy of ARCADIA and have been waiting impatiently for the pub date so I can post a few thoughts (not that anyone's been waiting to hear from me). ARCADIA is a stunning novel. Look elsewhere for a plot summary--I can't do it justice.
The imagery Groff uses on page after page took my breath away--and by the last third or so, I was weeping. Here is the very stuff of life. Hope, dreams, love, how to live, lost hope, lost dreams, lost love, death. Bit, the protagonist, is beautifully crafted and will break your heart.
It's a gorgeous book. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm going to read it again. Writers know that the most particular and specific may also be the most universal. Nevertheless, sometimes a book comes along that you think has been written just for you. ARCADIA is like that. If you care about the world, buy a copy.
on July 8, 2012
As I know something of communes, I really expected to like this novel, but it was evident from the beginning that the author's literary prose has stylistic quirks and, at times, the prose becomes an obstacle to the comprehension of what the author is actually trying to express. Occasionally, the prose can be breathtakingly beautiful; other times, it frustrates.
As to the plot, it's generally slow-moving, usually due to lengthy descriptions. The major weakness of the novel is characterization. Even the protagonist, Bit, we don't get to know truly well. His parents, Abe and Hannah, the next most major characters, are rather hollow. Major figures in the commune, Handy and Titus, are really nothing more than stick figures. The brief but repeated mention of all the other commune residents --Midge, Molly, Cole, Dylan and Leif, to name just a few-- serves to do little but confuse. Even Bit's eventual wife, Helle, is far from a well-rounded character, and I could guess that this is not the type of author who's going to tie up all of the loose ends and let the reader know what happened to her. She disappears, period, and the reader wanting to know her whereabouts is left just as frustrated as her husband is. The only character well enough developed that I could relate to was Bit's 14-year-old daughter Grete, but perhaps that was because she seemed a fairly typical rebellious teenager.
While the story of the commune, its disintegration and Bit's first exposure to the outside world is enough to keep the reader who has the patience to deal with the prose going, the end of the book, especially the last 60 pages, while offering one pleasant surprise, weighs heavily on the reader. Groff seems not to know how or when to end her novel, and spends about 60 pages on Hannah's painfully slow death. Long before Arcadia ends on page 289, I just wanted it to be over.
on September 4, 2012
The reason for my 2 star rating of this book is because I had such a difficult time getting through it or caring about it at all. This book was so confusing in the beginning with all of the characters flitting in and out of the main character's (Bit's) life that soon they all flooded together giving me a vague impression of what was happening. I never did get a clear image of the main characters like Helle, Handy, Hannah or Abe. Even Bit seemed muddled. I'm not sure if I just wasn't in the mindset for this type of book, but I picked it up and put it down so often that I soon realized that, well, this is not the book for me. I think the beginning set the tone for me, and I just never really got over it (by "beginning" I mean the first 50% of the book). I find it so strange that so many people LOVED the beginning of the book. How? I never felt any attachment toward anyone. I couldn't "see" anyone. There were no descriptions I could hang onto and go with.
My expectations of what the book was about is also why I gave this 2 stars. The book fell below my expectations. I loved the premise of the book - the fact that it was written about a hippie commune in itself is intriguing. But I think what brings a book to life is its characters. There were definitely moments of brilliance at certain points of the book where I could finally understand a character better, but there were not enough to make me want to stick with it for longer than a few pages at a time. I appreciate the author's attempt to describe people and situations from Bit's perspective, but Bit was such a confused character himself that I felt like I, again, couldn't grasp much of what was happening. My mind wandered too often. It didn't "hook" me. Too many new descriptions being introduced but not repeated enough for me to understand.
All this said, I would recommend this book to anyone interested to get inside of a hippie commune and the effects of living there from birth. The book definitely gives the reader a taste, for sure. The book is good for anyone that prefers more poetic style of writing with a lot of imagery and interpretive descriptions. It is also a good book for anyone who doesn't mind tons of characters who don't do much for the story other than color it a bit more with going-ons. Again, it's a book that gives you an overall impression of life at the time. It just wasn't necessarily a book for me.
on July 31, 2012
Some books grab you from the get-go, while some take a little time before they hook you completely. Lauren Groff's wonderful Arcadia fell in the latter category for me, but it was an investment well worth my time. This was a beautifully written book about family (biological and otherwise), love, responsibility, relationships, and the unique pull of one's upbringing.
Arcadia is a commune that develops in the early 1970s in upstate New York, built around a dilapidated mansion called Arcadia House. Born into this community of musicians, farmers, midwives, bakers, and burnt-out escapees is Ridley Sorrel Stone, aka Bit, the son of friendly community pillar Abe and Hannah, a baker often laid low by the depression that commune living cannot cure. The book follows Bit, his family, and other Arcadia residents as the community finally succeeds after years of struggling, looks at the after-effects of its success, then follows Bit's life after nearly everyone has left Arcadia, and what living on the "Outside" has done. Bit is an idealistic, creative, sensitive, and intelligent person, who finds his life turned upside down by the complexity of many of his relationships. This book is an interesting, thought-provoking meditation on the many ways "free" living can shape people's futures.
The book starts when Bit is only five years old, and I felt that portion of the book was the most difficult to engage with, perhaps because you were seeing things through his young eyes, however unique a perspective that provided. As Bit matured, the book really took shape and flight, and I found all of the characters so memorable and complex. Lauren Groff is a terrific writer; her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, remains one of my all-time favorites, and it is good to see her talent and storytelling ability flourish with Arcadia. It's definitely a book that will get you thinking about your own life, your own dreams, and your own relationships. Definitely read it.
on January 22, 2013
I generally enjoyed "The Monsters of Templeton", Groff's other book, but this one left me cold. Her writing here is over the top descriptive [and in fairness, some of it is quite lyrical, if that's what she's intending]. But after awhile, it just gets pretentious. I found myself skipping parts of paragraphs to get to some action. I also don't like this method of eliminating quotation marks - it's not that I don't get it, it's that it puts an unnecessary onus on the reader to double check that someone is talking rather than that the author is recounting.
Which brings me to another gripe about this book - most of it seems to be telling a story rather than showing us a story through action. This, in my opinion, keeps the reader from understanding the characters and their motivations. I agree with other reviewers that I never really got a clear idea of who these people [and there are many!] are, what they look like or what makes them tick. Bit, the main character and protagonist, spends most of the novel being unhappy, it seemed, but I could never empathize with him. This is a serious flaw in such a long novel.
on March 29, 2012
I enjoyed this book as much for how unique it was, as for the story it told. I am weary of reading the same "woe is me" novels over and over again. It seems that the more tragedy you can shove between two covers these days, the more likely you are to get an agent. And while, yes, there was sorrow in this book, there was also joy. And incredibly well done description. Sometimes maybe too much description? Towards the end of the book I found myself skimming, and I admit I actually didn't read the last couple of chapters. But I am not blaming the author for that. It was more that I felt like the story had reached its natural conclusion already and I was ready to be done reading it. I fell in love with the character Bit. He was like a modern day Dickens character, and I love Dickens, so that's high praise from me.