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Arcadia Hardcover – March 13, 2012
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*Starred Review* This beautifully crafted novel follows Bit Stone, the first child to be born in the late 1960s on an upstate New York commune called Arcadia, from childhood through the year 2018. An introspective youngster who can often go months without speaking, Bit “watches life from a distance.” He can see how hard his parents work to make Arcadia successful, but he can also see that the self-indulgent commune leader frequently fails to live up to his own ideals. As the backbreaking work, continual poverty, and near-constant hunger work to undermine the once-flourishing sense of community, Bit’s family leaves the commune to make their way in the outside world. Bit becomes a photographer and teacher but is always anchored to the place of his childhood, even marrying the emotionally damaged daughter of Arcadia’s guru, but happiness proves elusive, both for him and for the greater world, as a flu pandemic sweeps the globe. Groff’s second novel, after the well-received The Monsters of Templeton (2008), gives full rein to her formidable descriptive powers, as she summons both the beauty of striving for perfection and the inevitable devastation of failing so miserably to achieve it. --Joanne Wilkinson
"[Lauren Groff] has taken a quaint, easily caricatured community and given it true universality...And a book that might have been small, dated and insular winds up feeling timeless and vast...The raw beauty of Ms. Groff's prose is one of the best things about Arcadia. But it is by no means this book's only kind of splendor."―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"I was constantly torn between wanting to gulp down this book or savor its lines. Even the most incidental details vibrate with life... Arcadia wends a harrowing path back to a fragile, lovely place you can believe in."―Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"A moving look at the value of human connection in a scary, chaotic world."―Entertainment Weekly
"Lauren Groff's dazzling new novel brings the flawed visions of a '60s commune to life... At a moment when so much floating anger struggles for articulation, it's Groff's essential human empathy that gives her work its urgency."―Vogue
"One of our best young novelists brings a lost Eden of hippiedom freshly to life... Groff's prismatic prose style lends itself to the darker currents that run beneath the Arcadian dream... both poetic and ambitious."―Elle
"Groff's beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read."―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"[A] beautifully crafted novel Groff's second novel, after the well-received The Monsters of Templeton (2008), gives full rein to her formidable descriptive powers, as she summons both the beauty of striving for perfection and the inevitable devastation of failing so miserably to achieve it."―Booklist (Starred Review)
"Arcadia feels true, as do the characters who populate this extraordinary novel, which lingers on passing moments in time and highlights the importance of place in preserving not only our memories, but also ourselves."―Hannah Tinti, author of the bestselling and award-winning novel The Good Thief
"Richly peopled and ambitious and oh, so lovely, Lauren Groff's Arcadia is one of the most moving and satisfying novels I've read in a long time. It's not possible to write any better without showing off."―Richard Russo, author of the novel That Old Cape Magic and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls
"Part Stone Diaries, part Lord of the Flies, part something out of a Shakespearean tragedy, Lauren Groff's Arcadia is so uniquely absorbing that you finish it as if waking from a dream. Groff is one of our most talented writers, and Arcadia one of the most revelatory, magical, and ambitious novels I've read in years."―Kate Walbert, author of the New York Times bestselling novel A Short History of Women
"An astonishing novel, both in ambition and achievement, filled with revelations that appear inevitable in retrospect, amid the cycle of life and death. A novel of "the invisible tissue of civilization," of "community or freedom," and of the precious fragility of lives in the balance."―Kirkus (Starred Review)
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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.
Finally someone has addressed this intriguing part of American history. Arcadia is a novel that explores life for Bit (the oddball name sounds authentic), who was born and raised in the fictional commune. Arcadia is founded by intelligent, well-meaning and committed people. Then, as is often the case, success attracted a different crowd contributing to its demise.
The first part of the novel is brilliantly told from Bit Stone's childhood point of view. Arcadia is a large commune with a lot of activity. Sights, sounds and particularly smells are lavishly described--often in lyrical language. Bit is a sensitive child who although he suffers from his mother's depression, a lack of food, the cold, and a general lack of creature comforts, has no interest is leaving the only home he's ever known.
This part of the book is packed with thought-provoking details. Except for the author's irritating decision not to use punctuation to indicate speech, the book has its strengths. Lauren Groff did a great job on commune life. For example, the commune is led by a charismatic musician, Handy, who becomes predictably corrupt. The powerful effect of popular music on the counter-culture of the time was accurate and believable. However, 1) such a commune would have thrived slightly earlier in time, not after Jonestown, or Ronald Reagan's election and 2) a raison d'être for the commune (the draft for the war in Vietnam) would have been more prominent in everyone's consciousness. On the real-life commune I knew, people dodging the draft on their way to Canada were often drop-ins. Their unexpected stays often depleted the resources of the generous community.
The last part of the novel was weak. There is very little plot and what there is seems silly (a pandemic named `SARI'). It's as if Groff ran out of juice after her strong start. I wanted to learn how Bit handled the transition to life beyond Arcadia, but that was skipped over. As with the lives of Heron and Critter, I still wonder.
is probably the least well-developed character who seems to be reactive more than active. The story is highly believable and captured my
experiences of that time period well. This is a beautifully written narrative of many flawed people with whom I empathized a lot.