Carla Baku's Reviews > Arcadia

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
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's review
Apr 19, 2012

really liked it

My rating for this fine novel is a solid 4.5. It is the story of Ridley Stone--called Bit for reasons that are made clear during the story--and his life growing up in, growing out of, and growing to understand (mostly) a counterculture commune founded at the time of his birth: 1968.

Lauren Groff's prose, at its best is breathy and luminous. The early part of the novel is told from a very young child's perspective, though not precisely in a child's voice. The result is a sense, almost, of magical realism. Very serious and adult behaviors and conversations are seen through the lens of love and childish normalcy, sometimes allowing the reader a great deal of dramatic irony--you know that some troubling things are afoot, but young Bit does not.

Those who enjoy lush description and an unhurried pace will love especially the first part of the novel, those parts that happen during Bit's childhood. Props also for several plot choices that build a great deal of tension, enough to balance the moments of slow reveal, in this reader's opinion.

There is so much about the communal life that Groff got right, that it is stunning to find that she is barely a blink above thirty. Having lived that life myself, I can say that these characters and their circumstances really aren't so stereotypical as one might imagine. I did feel from time to time that the author probably owes a debt of gratitude to work such as TC Boyle's Drop City and that wonderful counterculture classic Spiritual Midwifery (for example, the midwives of Arcadia referring to uterine contractions as "rushes"). In the end, though, Groff most certainly distilled her sources and made them, abundantly, her own.

Just a few things dropped this novel out of the 5 star category for me, and not by much. One was a credibility problem with a commune functioning at this level for such a long time--into the early 1980s. There were enough seeds of human error sown (as there are in any such utopian endeavor) early on that I found it hard to believe that the same people would have held together for such a long time before the bottom dropped out. I felt that this time frame was somewhat forced on the author by her choice to end the narrative in the year 2018, with a middle-aged Bit and his return-of-sorts to Arcadia. I also was ambivalent with the choice to have a dystopian health crisis make such a noted appearance, to little actual effect. Finally, a minor and probably finicky loose-thread question: Why create that improbable and fascinating underground emergency tunnel between Arcadia House and the Octagonal Barn, and then allow it to drop out of the story almost completely?

I sank into Arcadia and lived in it without coming up for air, and came away moved by its beauty and imagination, and beset with thoughts about days long gone, and how we move forward on our brief journeys by loving one another. A wonderful read.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 17, 2012 – Finished Reading
April 19, 2012 – Shelved

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