Lauren Groff – Arcadia
19. Arcadia by Lauren Groff (2012)
Length: 292 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, with some Historical Fiction and a definite flavor of Family Saga thrown in for good measure.
Started: 13 February 2012
Finished: 17 February 2012
Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Groff’s Monsters of Templeton and was looking forward to reading more of her work.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 January 2012.
are just fine, but at some point
you have to wake up.
Summary: Ridley Sorrel Stone – known as Bit due to his perennial small stature – is the first true Arcadian, born in the late 1960s as his parents, along with a group of fellow hippies and ideologists, travel to upstate New York, to the place that will become the commune of Arcadia. Located in and around a decaying mansion, Arcadia is a utopian dream, a community of equals, living off the land and off the hard work of its members. As Arcadia’s fame spreads, however, so do its problems, and Bit, now a teenager, must watch as his parents’ dream, and the only world he’s ever known, begins to crumble around them. But even once Bit is grown up, and out in the real world, Arcadia is in his blood, and he must use the lessons of his childhood to find a place for himself in his future.
Review: Arcadia takes place in four segments, when Bit is five, thirteen, early thirties, and late forties. It is a book, primarily, about family, and connection, and community, and about what it takes to create those things and how they can be fragile and strong at the same time. It’s not the easiest book to read; the writing is lovely and lyrical and haunting, but it takes some effort to get into the rhythm of Groff’s prose, and it always left me feeling simultaneously hollow and heavy. (Which is not a bad thing, at all, and is actually a sign of how effective her prose is, but it did make the reading experience slower going than it might otherwise have been.) I thought Groff did a particularly nice job at capturing the flavor and the feel of Bit’s changing thought processes as he ages; it can’t be easy to make a five-year-old and a fifty-year-old sound age-appropriate but also like the same person, but Groff manages beautifully.
While the language was absolutely beautiful, I wasn’t as sold on the actual story. Bit and his parents (and later his daughter) were interesting, believable people, but I didn’t really connect to them as much as I wanted to. This was less of a problem in the early parts of the book – then, my heart broke for everyone involved with Arcadia, with their big hopeful dreams and their incredible naivete and their knack for going about things so badly. My lack of connection to the characters was primarily a problem during the third part, in which Bit is dealing with the absence of his wife, who has walked out on him and their infant daughter. I think a lot of the impact of this part relied on the reader feeling sympathy for Bit, whereas I never really understood what he saw in her, even as children, and thought he was well shot of her as an adult.
Overall, it’s an ambitious idea for a novel, and the execution, particularly in terms of the prose styling, is absolutely flawless. It’s not destined to become a personal favorite – even between the two books of Groff’s that I’ve read, I preferred Monsters of Templeton – but it was something off the beaten track for me, and I’m glad I made the diversion. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: The main motivation for me to pick it up was that I like Groff’s writing style, but there’s absolutely substance here as well. I’d recommend Groff in general to fans of literary fiction, and if the magical realism of Monsters of Templeton is a turn-off, then Arcadia would be a fine place to start.
Other Reviews: Killin’ Time Reading
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First Line: The women in the river, singing.
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