Thursday, March 28, 2013


Arcadia  by Lauren Groff
Read:  2012

This is the follow up to Groff's amazing Monsters of Templeton and once again she doesn't disappoint.  Arcadia refers to a commune in New York   The story and the adventure at Arcadia begins with the birth of Bit.   Bit's parents Abe and Hannah have joined Handy and his wife Astrid in founding the commune. They own the property with a large manor house and plan to rehab the house so that all the Arcadians can live in and they plan to live off the land. They grow crops, make their own food and trade for the things they need, but can't grow or make with the outside world. 

We all know how Utopian designs turn out and this one is no different.  I'm sure you can create Utopia, but I'm pretty to make it work, you have to leave us humans out of it.  Handy is charismatic and has a lovely dream.  He can get everyone worked up to really want it and want to make it happen, he just doesn't have it in him to stick it out and make things happen.  In fact, he spends a lot of his time on the road, performing, leaving the rest of his family and his Arcadia family back at the homestead, building his dream.  

The people who make up the commune community of Arcadia range from the disenfranchised to extremely wealthy young people looking to remake their world.  While they are building from the ground up, they are living in vehicles on the property.  Everyone helps, doing the best they can and everyone looks out for everyone else.  They really do want to make a better world, starting with themselves. And, I really wanted to believe that they could.  In fact, this group of characters would have been able to come pretty close.  The outside world was accepting them and they were actually getting somewhere. And then came the clash.

This is Bit's story. His love for Hannah and Abe, his life being raised in a commune and where he was when it all fell apart.  Hannah has horrible bouts of depression, Abe holds the burdens of caring for all of the Arcadians on his shoulders.  Bit grows up and falls in love with Helle, Handy's daughter, who has plenty of issues, being the daughter of the erstwhile leader, with his failings and appetites.  But, Bit is true and loyal.

After the fall of Arcadia, Bit must find his way in the real world.  His story carries into the present with  a 40 some year old Bit raising his daughter, having no idea where her mother is and keeping tabs on his parents.  

The narrative covers over 40 years in Bit's life.  He is a wonderful character, almost Dickensian in his sensibilities and the scope of his story.  He really was the heart of that commune and he remained the best part of it even when the commune itself was a thing of the past.  The Arcadia people built something special that lasted beyond the days when the commune was still full of promise and potential.  Bit was the absolute best of it, but there were plenty of people who helped to raise him to be the man he is.

Groff's work never disappoints. She writes such beautiful stories. I, for one, will be waiting for her next book.

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