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Arcadia by Lauren Groff
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's review
May 09, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: skye
Read from April 27 to May 05, 2012

Arcadia chronicles the utopian dreams and acid-laced nightmares of a group of hippies living in an isolated piece of countryside through the eyes of one of its tiniest members, sensitive and dreamy Bit, "the oldest soul in Arcadia." The storyline is sociologically apt--- from the hunger of the children stealing raw vegetables from the garden to the narcissistic downfall of the Free People's guru, Handy--- and there is so much shining talent in Groff's lyricism and so many truly memorable and important lines.

In spite of the book's clear achievements, there were moments I hated it. The overall gestalt of happy "hippie" Arcadia and Bit's stubborn demented and fundamentally absent or impoverished naivete feels too stylized, like the propaganda-promoting smiley face mentality of the perpetually dazed and stoned. Where is the sense in this? Bit is not a traditional unreliable narrator because he believes in the utopian hippie dream too fervently and doesn't seem to register the pain involved in its execution--- there is in his lyrical tone no recognition of the pain or suffering with this kind of life, even as he and his family totally embrace the counter-cultural dream and its martyring consequences. (Um really? Abe, Bit's fathers's breaking of his neck doesn't even merit a scene?) At other points, my credulity was strained.... C'mon: there were no tutorials by learned hippies on Hebrew and German or John Milton and George Eliot on the lazy green, few communes of that era can claim a 15-year idyll of stability and fertility (though perhaps disproving my point, the Internet confirms The Farm in southern middle Tennessee is still around... Google it!) and there are gothic psychological realities which Bit simply ignores in favor of the fairy tale. Hunger deranges, rape disillusions. As for Groff, I admire her abilities but I don't think I ever really understood before how a great and shining style can actually get in the way of the story... my attitude has ALWAYS been, if the author has the apt metaphor, if she has the prodigious talent, she should sing! I learned from this book that sometimes it might be better for an author to hum or croon to get the point across, even if belting it out is within their powers.

All that said, Arcadia is a brilliant, ambitious, and profound book, wise in its imaginative details and awareness of the vagaries of life in community. And it merits all the stellar reviews it has gotten. I love that this book offered up a chance for me to critique and celebrate the hippy dream of the sixties--- the dream of my parent's generation--- and follow it through to its fascinating and true conclusion in the final scenes, set in year 2018. For fans of T.C. Boyle's Drop City

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