Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: "Arcadia" by Lauren Groff

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.

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