Arcadia

Arcadia

by Lauren Groff

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Timeless and vast... The raw beauty of Ms. Groff's prose is one of the best things about Arcadia. But it is by no means this book's only kind of splendor."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Even the most incidental details vibrate with life Arcadia wends a harrowing path back to a fragile, lovely place you can believe in."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday. Arcadia's inhabitants include Handy, the charismatic leader; his wife, Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah's only child, Bit. While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. He falls in love with Helle, Handy's lovely, troubled daughter. And eventually he must face the world beyond Arcadia.

In Arcadia, Groff displays her literary gifts to stunning effect.

"Fascinating."-People (****)

"It's not possible to write any better without showing off."—Richard Russo, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Empire Falls

"Dazzling."Vogue

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401342784
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 03/13/2012
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 489,936
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lauren Groff is the author of The Monsters of Templeton, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers; Delicate Edible Birds, a collection of short stories; and Fates and Furies, a National Book Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Tin House, One Story, McSweeney's, and Ploughshares, and in the anthologies 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and three editions of The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband and two sons.

Hometown:

Gainesville, FL, USA

Date of Birth:

July 23, 1978

Place of Birth:

Cooperstown, NY, USA

Education:

BA English and French Literature, Amherst College, 201: MFA in Fiction, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006

Read an Excerpt

Arcadia


By Lauren Groff

voice

Copyright © 2012 Lauren Groff
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4087-2


Chapter One

Bit is already moving when he wakes. It is February, still dark. He is five years old. His father is zipping Bit within his own jacket where it is warmest, and Abe's heart beats a drum against Bit's ear. The boy drowses as they climb down from the Bread Truck, where they live, and over the frosted ground of Ersatz Arcadia. The trucks and buses and lean-tos are black heaps against the night, their home until they can finish Arcadia House in the vague someday.

The gong is calling them to Sunday Morning Meeting, somewhere. A river of people flows in the dark. He smells the bread of his mother, feels the wind carrying the cold from the Great Lake to the north, hears the rustling as the forest wakes. In the air there is excitement and low, loving greetings; there is small snow, the smoke from someone's joint, a woman's voice, indistinct.

When Bit's eyes open again, the world is softened with first light. The tufts of the hayfield push up from under trampled snow. They are in the Sheep's Meadow and he feels the bodies closer now, massing. Handy's voice rises from behind Bit and up toward all of Arcadia, the seven dozen true believers in the winter morning. Bit twists to see Handy sitting among the maroon curls of the early skunk cabbage at the lip of the forest. He turns back, pressing his cheek against the pulse in his father's neck.

Bit is tiny, a mote of a boy. He is often scooped up, carried. He doesn't mind. From against the comforting strength of adults, he is undetected. He can watch from there, he can listen.

Over Abe's shoulder, far atop the hill, the heaped brick shadow of Arcadia House looms. In the wind, the tarps over the rotted roof suck against the beams and blow out, a beast's panting belly. The half-glassed windows are open mouths, the full-glassed are eyes fixed on Bit. He looks away. Behind Abe sits the old man in his wheelchair, Midge's father, who likes to rocket down the hill at the children, scattering them. The terror washes over Bit again, the loom and creak, the flash of a toothless mouth and the hammer-and-sickle flag as it flaps in passing. The Dartful Codger, Hannah calls the old man, with a twist to her mouth• The Zionist, others call him, because this is what he shouts for after sundown: Zion, milk and honey, land of plenty, a place for his people to rest. One night, listening, Bit said, Doesn't the Dartful Codger know where he is? and Abe looked down at Bit among his wooden toys, bemused, saying, Where is he? and Bit said, Arcadia, meaning the word the way Handy always said it, with his round Buddha face, building the community with smooth sentences until the others can also see the fields bursting with fruits and grains, the sunshine and music, the people taking care of one another in love.

In the cold morning, though, the Dartful Codger is too small and crabbed for terror. He is almost asleep under a plaid blanket Midge has tucked around him. He wears a hunter's cap, the earflaps down. His nose whistles, and steam spurts from it, and Bit thinks of the kettle on the hob. Handy's voice washes over him: ... work, as in pleasure, variety is evidently the desire of nature ... words too heavy for the soft feet of this morning. As the dawn light sharpens, the Dartful Codger becomes distinct. Veins branch across his nose, shadows gouge his face. He rouses himself, frowns at Bit, shuffles his hands on his lap.

... God, says Handy, or the Eternal Spark, is in every human heart, in every piece of this earth. In this rock, in this ice, in this plant, this bird. All deserve our gentleness.

The old man's face is changing. Astonishment steals over the hoary features. Startled, Bit can't look away. The eyes blink but come to a stop, open. Bit waits for the next puff of smoke from the cragged nose. When it doesn't come, a knot builds in his chest. He lifts his head from Abe's shoulder• A slow purple spreads over the old man's lips; a fog, an ice, grows over his eyeballs. Stillness threads itself through the old man.

At Bit's back, Handy talks of the music tour he is going on in a few days, to spread the word of Arcadia.... be gone for a couple of months, but I have faith in you Free People. I'm your guru, your Teacher, but not your Leader. Because when you've got a good enough Teacher, you're all your own Leaders ... and the people around Bit laugh a little, and somewhere little Pooh screams, and Hannah's hand comes from Bit's side and smoothes down his cap, which has come half off, his one ear cold.

Handy says, Remember the foundations of our community. Say them with me. The voices rise: Equality, Love, Work, Openness to the Needs of Everyone.

A song boils up, Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, they sing. Abe shifts under Bit to the rhythm. Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun ... the song ends.

A silence. An inhale. In the great Om that rises from the mass of Free People, startled crows speckle up from Arcadia House roof. The sunrise blooms all over them.

In such perfect dawn, even the old man is beautiful, the blue of his beard under the newly luminous skin of his cheek, the softness in his jaw, the tufts in his ears touched golden. He has been gentled in living light. He has been made good.

When the last voice falls silent, just before Handy's Thank you, my friends, Midge puts her hand on her father's shoulder• Then she takes off her glove and presses her bare palm against the old man's cheek. And when Arcadia moves, soul-shakes, hugs, shares its good energy, Midge's voice cuts through the din. Father? she calls out, low. Louder, then: Father?

It is not in the speed with which Hannah grabs Bit and rushes him back home to the Bread Truck, or the fact that Abe stays behind to help Midge. It is not in the special treat, the dried blueberries in the porridge, or Hannah standing, wordless at the window, blowing on her green tea. It is not even what Abe says when he comes in: Karmic energy rejoining the ether, or Natural, the cycle of life, or Everybody dies, Ridley, honey. Abe does his best, but Bit still doesn't understand. He saw the old man turn beautiful. He wonders at the worry on his parents' faces.

The sadness they feel begins to crack open only when Hannah drops the dirty breakfast dishes on the table and bursts into tears. She rushes out over the Quad to the Pink Piper, to the comfort of Marilyn and Astrid, the midwives.

Abe gives Bit a tight smile. He says, Your mama's okay, Little Bit. It's just, this morning struck a deep chord with her because her own papa's not doing so hot right now.

In this Bit smells the small sulfur of a lie. Hannah has not been herself for a while. Bit lets the untruth slowly dissolve away.

Hannah's dad who lives in Louisville? he says. In the fall, the grandparents had visited, a fat man in a porkpie hat, a nervous puff of a woman in all pink. Bit had been squeezed, remarked upon: So tiny, the woman had trilled, I would have said under three, not five years old! There were sideways looks at him, and Hannah saying through gritted teeth: He's not retarded, he's fine, he's just really small, God, Morn. There was a meal that the pink lady wouldn't touch, a handkerchief lifted to the corners of her eyes every few seconds. There was a bad argument, then the fat and the puff went away.

As her parents drove off, Hannah'd had angry tears in her eyes. She'd said, May they rot in their bourgeois capitalist hell. Abe had laughed gently at her, and after a minute, the fierceness fell from Hannah's face. Grudgingly, she had laughed, too.

Abe says now, Yeah, your Louisville granddaddy. He has a wasting disease. Your grandma wants your mother down there, but Hannah won't go. Anyways, we can't spare her.

Because of the Secret, Bit says. Everyone has been whispering about the Secret for a month, since Handy announced his music tour. While Handy is gone, they will finish Arcadia House so they can all move out of Ersatz Arcadia, that loose mishmash of buses and lean-tos, and, at last, live together. They had meant to these three years, ever since they bought the land and found the house, but they were distracted by hunger and hard work. Arcadia House is to be a gift to Handy when he returns.

Abe's eyes crinkle and his lips split to show his strong teeth in the red of his beard. I guess it isn't a secret if even the little guys know, he says.

They play a game of Go Fish until Hannah returns, her face raw but calmer. She tells them that Astrid and Marilyn have been called to the Amish neighbors' for a birthing. For a hello, Hannah rests her cheek in the crook of Abe's neck for a moment and kisses Bit gently on the forehead. Like a sigh into breath, life releases into life. Hannah turns to stoke the woodstove. Abe fixes the drafty chink where he had built the lean-to against the Bread Truck. They eat dinner and Abe plays a tune on the harmonica and when night falls all three curl on the pallet together, and Bit sleeps, a hickory nut within the shell of his parents.

The forest is dark and deep and pushes so heavily on Bit that he must run away from the gnarled trunks, from the groans of the wind in the branches. His mother calls for him to stay in sight, but he doesn't slow. When he comes into the clearing by the Gatehouse, his face smarts with cold.

Titus, pocked and immense, heaves up the gate. He seems old, older even than Handy, because he was damaged in Vietnam. Bit adores Titus. Titus calls Bit Hop o'My Thumb and can lift him with one palm and will sometimes even smuggle Bit a few goodies from the Outside—pink coconut cake in cellophane or peppermints like bloodshot eyes—despite the ban on sugar and the harm surely done to animals in making the goodies. Bit believes the treats' chemical afterburn is what the world beyond Arcadia must taste like. Titus slips him a throat-thickening butterscotch in a crinkle of yellow paper and winks, and Bit buries his face in his friend's greasy jeans for a moment before he hurries on.

All Arcadia has gathered on the frozen road to say goodbye. Handy sits in lotus on the nose of the Blue Bus with his four blond children: Erik and Leif and Helle and Ike. His main wife, Astrid, tall and white-haired, gazes up at them. She unknots a hemp necklace from her throat and ties it around Handy's neck, kissing him over his third eye. Even above the roar of the engine, the radio belts out a jiggly country song. Handy's other wife, Lila, who wears feathers in her black hair, sits with skinny little Hiero, her other husband. The band hugs those they are leaving behind and lugs their stuff up into the bus, then Handy passes the children down: Ike, inches taller than Bit though a year younger; Helle, froggy as her father; Leif, who is always angry; chubby Erik, who slides to the ground by himself and lands on his knees and tries not to cry.

On the Gatehouse porch, Wells and Caroline argue with flushed faces. Bit's friend Jincy peers from parent to parent. Though the wind makes her curly hair spring in ten directions, her face is pale and still.

From the path comes a sweetness of bells, of voices. Out of nowhere, great broad heads of giants bob in the branches. Bit's gut swirls with loveliness. Onto the road come the Circenses Singers, Hans and Fritz and Summer and Billy-goat, in their white robes, carrying the Adam and Eve puppets. These are new-made creatures, naked and huge with flushed genitals. The Circenses Singers go off on the weekends to protests and rallies, staging dances at concerts, sometimes busking for change. Now the robed people bend and sing under the vast and eerie bodies above them. When they finish, everyone cheers and they pack the great bulbous beasts into the back of a Volkswagen van.

Bye-bye-bye-bye, shouts brown little Dylan from Sweetie Fox's arms. Bit runs to his friend Coltrane, who is poking at an icy puddle with a stick. Cole gives Bit the stick, and Bit pokes, too, then hands the stick to Cole's brother, Dylan, and Dylan waves it around.

Gingery Eden, her pregnant belly enormous, cracks a bottle of pop over the hood of the Blue Bus and rubs her back when she stands. The dazzle of her white teeth under her copper hair makes Bit want to dance.

Handy shouts about how they'll be back before Spring Planting, and the Free People huzzah, and Tarzan hands up a cooler of beer the Motor Pool sold an engine to pay for, and Astrid lays a long kiss on Lila's pretty lips, and Hiero does, too, and slides to the ground, and there are other kisses, the band's chicks and wives smooching up into the windows, and then the engine gets louder and the bus starts to move off toward the County Road. Everyone cheers and some people cry. In Arcadia, people cry all the time. Others do funny dances, laughing.

Helle stumbles after the bus, sobbing for her father. She is always in tears, the bigheaded, strange-looking little girl, always screaming. Astrid scoops Helle up, and the girl wails into her mother's chest. The bus's sound softens and filters away. The noises they are left with seem doubly loud in the quiet: the ice that cracks in the branches, the wind like sandpaper across the surface of the snow, the flap of the prayer flags strung across the Gatehouse porch, the squeak of rubber boots on frozen mud.

When Bit turns, everyone is looking at his father. Abe grins at them, the ones who can't play music, the four dozen left behind. They seem so few. Abe calls loudly, All righty, everybody. Are you ready to work your bones to sawdust and shards?

Yes, they shout. Bit wanders back to Hannah, and rests his head against her hip. She blocks the wind and warms his face with her heat.

Motor Pool, you ready to go out into the wilds of New York and salvage and steal and sell your sperm and blood to buy what we need to do this?

Hells, yes! shouts Peanut, and behind him, Wonder Bill and Tarzan pump their fists.

Womenfolk, are you ready to clean and polish and varnish and scrape and sand and take care of the kidlets and operate the Bakery and Soy Dairy and Laundry and cook and clean and chop wood and do the everyday stuff we need done to keep we Free People going strong while all this work's happening?

The women cheer, and way above Bit's head, Astrid mutters to Hannah in her strange lilt, As if it is not what we already do, already. Bit looks away. When Astrid speaks, she shows her teeth, and they are so yellow and crooked he feels he's looking at something private.

All you Pregnant Ladies from the Henhouse, you ready to sew those curtains and braid those rugs and make the rooms all cozy and homey? Scattered yeses, the Hens surprised into acquiescence. A baby begins to squall.

Abe shouts: All you men, ready to work in the cold and stink of that old house to get her up and ready, with plumbing and a roof and everything? The men yell and yodel.

Abe's face goes solemn; he raises a hand. One thing, my cats and chicks. I know we're a nonhierarchieal society and all, but since I've got my degree in engineering and Hiero has all those years under his belt as a construction foreman, we were thinking we'd be the ones to report to, yeah? We're just the straw bosses here, so if you got a better idea to do something, just let us know. But run things by us before you go off on your own initiative to do new stuff and we have to waste our time and dough to undo it. Anyways, serious talk over. We got about four more good hours of daylight today and only three months to totally refinish a fallen-apart nineteenth-century mansion. Or orphanage or whatever it was. So let's get our beautiful beatnik asses cracking.

A shout, a rush, and the group steams forward, up the mile-long drive scabbed with ice. They laugh, they are warm, they are ready. The last time Bit was in Arcadia House, he saw a sapling growing in a clawfoot tub and the roof caved in to show the clouds and sun. How wonderful it will be to have the house finished, tight and warm. If sleeping in a nest with two parents is happiness, imagine sleeping with eighty! Children dart around the legs of the adults until Sweetie Fox rounds them up and takes them down the shortcut to the Pink Piper to play.

Bit falls behind, feeling something gone wrong. He turns back.

Hannah stands alone at the gate. The ground is muddy around her. Bit hears a bird's low call. He begins to walk back toward his mother. When he is almost the whole way to her and she still seems small, he runs. She is hunched in an old sweater of Abe's, shivering. Her face is folded in on itself, and though he knows she is twenty-four, she seems younger than Erik, younger than Jincy, as young as Bit himself. He takes off his mitten to put his hand in hers. Her fingers are ice.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Arcadia by Lauren Groff Copyright © 2012 by Lauren Groff. Excerpted by permission of voice. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Kate Walbert

Part Stone Diaries, part Lord of the Flies, part something out of a Shakespearean tragedy, Lauren Groff's Arcadia is so uniquely absorbing that you finish it as if waking from a dream. Groff is one of our most talented writers, and Arcadia one of the most revelatory, magical, and ambitious novels I've read in years. (Kate Walbert, author of the New York Times bestselling novel A Short History of Women)

Hannah Tinti

Arcadia feels true, as do the characters who populate this extraordinary novel, which lingers on passing moments in time and highlights the importance of place in preserving not only our memories, but also ourselves. (Hannah Tinti, author of the bestselling and award-winning novel The Good Thief)

Richard Russo

Richly peopled and ambitious and oh, so lovely, Lauren Groff's Arcadia is one of the most moving and satisfying novels I've read in a long time. It's not possible to write any better without showing off. (Richard Russo, author of the novel That Old Cape Magic and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls)

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Arcadia 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
RichardSutton More than 1 year ago
There are books I've read that resonate long after they have been finished. Arcadia will be one of them. Arcadia was recommended in NY Times Books Editor Janet Maislin's Best Books of 2012 article, and while I don't usually follow many suggestions, in this case, reading the blurb struck in inner chord. The author found the unusual combination of a lyrical writing voice and perfect pacing in a story filled with multiple levels of emotion, discord and one of the most evocative settings I've read in recent fiction. Arcadia is the story of a young boy growing into manhood in and through his Vegan commune upbringing. Ms. Gross has presented one of the most generous, even-handed portrayals of the spirit of the utopian ideals that founded communal experiments all over this country in the 1960s and 70s. Setting the book in upstate New York, long a hothouse of utopian villages and communities, was a perfect decision. Her sense of place is seamlessly integrated into her writing, and the lack of info-dumping made for a noticeably quick read. Having lived myself, in a commune in the West in the early 1970s, her story line contained many scenes that seemed to spring right out of my own experiences. In many ways, Arcadia became a personal journey for me as well. There were many mistakes made in the scramble to produce a new world and a better way to cement true community, Many are still ongoing, and this book, in all its loving attention to detail and its deep understanding of how young boys become men, reminds us of the rewards that taking risks can provide. It is one of the best novels I've read in some time, so I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates a well-told, deeply emotional story and has an interest in those times and how they still live on today in the lives of all us old, ex-hippies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IREAD THIS FOR BOOKCLUB. IT WAS REALLY HARD TO GET INTO AT FIRST. THERE ARE SO MANY CHARACTERS IT IS A BIT TOUGH TO KEEP THEM ALL STRAIGHT. YOU JUST WANT TO RESCUE LITTLE BIT FROM THE COMMUNE WITH ALL IT'S DRUGS,AND HUNGRY POOR PEOPLE; BUT HE GROWS UP AND BECOMES A WONDERFUL PERSON. THIS PROBABLY IS A PRETTY GOOD SNAPSHOT IN TIME OF THE COMMUNE LIFE AND A POSSIBLE FURTURISTIC TAKE ON THINGS TO COMES.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I began this book with a little skepticism, but it was soon negated. The author, Lauren Groff, writes so lyrically and beautifully that I was quickly pulled into the story. The setting is one that I haven't seen explored very often - a hippie commune beginning in the 60s. The story follows one of the children through to adulthood and his experience in the outside world. I so look forward to seeing what Ms. Groff continues to write...she is only 35!
kalevala More than 1 year ago
Loved the assortment of commune characters! Sad when the book ended, as I wanted it to continue. Has a feminist flare, importance of women in the role of keeping society together. Friendships. Betrayals. A wonderful life cycle read, with Bit as central male character. Addresses the role of societies, freedom or control? Why did communes fail? What happens when global warming worsens? If there is a pandemic? The story spans the 1960s through 2018s or later. Plan on reading her othe book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most haunting books i have ever read. Born in 62 less than 60 miles from where woodtock took place i have always been fascinated my hippie culture and coomune movement. This novel shows the good the bad and ugly...from the childrens point of view. Effected me more than any book i have read in years. Felt characters were people i knew that stayed with long after i read the final page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had no idea what the author's intentions where for this book.   Throughout the book, I could not keep up with the story line with the usage of her words.  Were the thoughts coming from her writings or of the characters speaking?  There were no quotation marks when people were speaking.  I skimmed the whole book and in the end had no idea what she was trying to say.  Extremely disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story of a young boy growing up in a commune in the 70's and his life through adulthood. Lauren Groff's writing is poetic - this book definitly takes your breath away
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought about Bit for weeks after finishing and HATED for it to end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A peek into a utopian society and the repercussions of itself and the world on its fundamental idealism and its members. Complex characters that will stay with me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book over a weekend, it was awesome the way she followed the character though out his life continuing on well into adulthood. She didn't leave you wondering what happed to Bit she told you all about him and his life. Great book.
justmelissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for Arcadia after really enjoying The Monsters of Templeton. Unfortunately, Groff's sophomore novel didn't work for me. Although the early days of the commune and the politics of group living were interesting, I couldn't find a character to really root for. Even Little Bit was more annoying than endearing. And as a adult, I found him bland and boring. The book skips from Bit's childhood to adulthood, skipping his coming of age in the real world after the collapse of the commune. Too bad, I suspect that was the most interesting time of his life. Though the critics loved Arcadia - calling it lyrical, nuanced, and revelatory - I found it distant and depressing.
Randall.Hansen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fun and interesting book, divided into three periods -- all from the perspective of the main character. The first is set in a commune located in upstate New York in the 60s -- my favorite section of the book -- when Bit is a child. The second is set in New York City, where Bit lives as an adult. The third is set in the future. Just don't know why the book had to go into the future. Actually think it could have ended at the end of Bit's childhood. If you like the crazy hippie 60s, then at least some of this book is very appealing. Good writing, interesting characters.
MaryinHB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
MY THOUGHTSReally Liked It.Born and raised in a commune during the early sixties, Bit doesn't attend regular school, eats no processed food, has never really seen movies or television and reads for entertainment. Arcadia is built by a group of people that want to live off the grid and be self sustaining. They have created what they believe to be the ultimate homestead and lifestyle. The story follows him from birth to old age when his parents die at Arcadia. The inhabitants also make their income from growing and selling pot, of course, it is all under the table. When word spreads out through the community that they will celebrate a harvest festival, it becomes a mini Woodstock and gets a bit out of control. The socialistic community has to decide whether it can remain idealized or sell out. I enjoyed the book but it took me forever to read as it was slow going. It was just the type of laid back story that didn't compel me to stay up late and finish it. I had to put it down several times since I just found myself bored at times. I adored Monsters of Templeton and there were the same quirky characters here as well, but they just didn't get me involved.
PMelchior on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Before you move to pick up a copy of "Arcadia," you will read rave reviews praising author Lauren Groff for her lyrical prose, her stunning descriptions of life within a free-thinking commune, the depth of her characters and the arc of her story.They're all true.The story of Bit Stone and his family, central figures in the upstate New York commune, is, by turns, painful and joyful, beautiful and excruciatingly difficult. Life within "Arcadia" is so well described, in fact, it seems as though one can smell the very detritus of life in such a well-intentioned but hardscrabble existence.We see all of this through the eyes of Bit, the first youngster born into the commune, who grows to adolescence amid the free-thinking members of the group. He sees it all, growing up in the face life's sharp edges ¿ the rigors of birth, the struggles of the addicted ¿ and its simple joys.But the insularity of this community looms as large as a character itself, and, as Bit grows, he begins both to anticipate and to dread life on The Outside.When that day comes, he eventually finds himself confronting evils overwhelming to even the most hardened among us.What a wonderful book. Groff's writing envelops the reader, casting us headlong into the world she has created for Bit, attaching us to him from the earliest age, engaging us in his growth, his struggles, and his eventual decision to seek a kind of redemption for the community itself.This is Groff's second book. Can't wait to read her third.
Perednia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story is vague at first, the how and why opaque as the amoeba grows, as the characters take shape and as the outline of what's going on takes its own time to form.It begins before the protagonist is even born. Little Bit is the first child born to a group on caravan that eventually becomes a commune. He knows the memory took place before his birth -- a group of women, including his mother, washing clothes in a cold river, people singing old folk songs, a bonfire and a small caravan on the move toward their eventual home. Before the skeptical reader gives up, know that Bit knows he knows the story because it has been told to him so many times that it feels as real to him as something he actually did experience. So is Bit's own story. He is, after all, "the first Arcadian ever" and his story "is another story so retold that everyone owns it".This communal passing on of a story is the key to Arcadia, the latest novel by Lauren Groff. So is the sense that, while the novel takes place from the 1960s to the next decade, it is timeless, a tale the Grimm Brothers may have heard to pass along: "The forest is dark and deep and pushes so heavily on Bit that he must run away from the gnarled trunks, from the groans of the wind in the branches." The forest and the outdoors are as much Bit's world as the commune.Young Bit disappears into the forest during a time his mother, Hannah, suffers from depression. He knows he is not her prince, but he still is on a quest to save her. Bit is living in a fairy tale.He stays in a fairy tale for his entire life, as Groff fits what could really happen to a child born in a commune in 1968 through the glory days and the downfall, through the love and through the drugs, through the opting out of society and becoming a destination for partiers, into a "once upon a time" framework. Until that fairy tale quest, and even with the occasional fairy tale reference, the early Arcadia often feels like a rewrite of T.C. Boyle's Drop City, written with a child protagonist instead of the adult hippies. Other children's parents fight, the whole commune goes hungry and the ego of the ironically named leader, Handy, is on early display. It's not going to work, as all utopian societies turn out to not work.But with that quest, Groff's intent emerges and shines through for the rest of the novel. Like the tale of the primordal creature who lived in deep waters in her debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia's strength is from the power of storytelling as an ancient activity. Bit's parents are the kindly center of the tale -- the capable and loving Hannah and Abe. They know how to do things. Their emotions are real. Their dreams are both within reach and beyond the scope of humans with normal foibles and failings.Handy's children, and those of the other original Arcadia settlers, like Bit, grow up removed from normal society. They don't eat processed food or meat. They don't watch TV. They see childbirth and naked adults, and smoking pot is the norm. Groff delivers all these facts without embellishment and without judgment. This is simply their world.The fall from grace is a slow-moving one. One character has a literal fall but continues to try to make the dream real. Others fall figuratively but their actions turn the dream into a nightmare and the community falls apart.Groff, instead of next showing how Bit adjusts to life on the outside, next shows us Bit as an adult, as a father with his path already chosen. While some readers might want to see Bit's journey, this is a writing choice that proves to be a good one. Instead of watching Bit cope with civilization in a coming-of-age story, we know that he already came of age before he left Arcadia. Even though where he lives has changed (and all the children of Arcadia end up living in big cities, not wanting to be isolated), Bit remains true to himself. He lives with quiet integrity as the days go past. There is one incident where most writers would have Bit commi
checkadawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Groff writes lyrically about the experience of growing up in a commune. Her characters, particularly protagonist Bit, are humane and easy to love. The story moves along a bit slow, though, so you need to be one of those readers who is sustained by gorgeous prose to truly enjoy this book. Personally, I loved it but some might find it a bit plodding.
VeronicaH. on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arcadia by Lauren Groff is a beautiful, quiet little book. It starts at the titular Arcadia, a hippie commune established in the 70s somewhere in the upper-midwestern or northeastern United States. The novel is predominantly told from Bit's perspective, though thankfully with the distance of 3rd person POV. Bit is the "littlest bit of a hippie" ever born at Arcadia. His parents are among the original founders of the commune, and some of the last to leave when it eventually fails sometime in the 80s. The narrative follows Bit from his childhood to his 50s, with gaps in-between to progress the storyline. Bit's voice is quiet but strong, and while not terribly unique or original, completely authentic. I was most intrigued by the secondary characters and would have loved more time spent on/with them. While one might think this novel is about the death of American idealism and all of the baggage this brought to the 80s and 90s, it's really not. It's a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age novel that is more concerned with the death of its subject's innocence and idealism. The wider implications are a barely present subtext, often seen through the eyes of the uncomprehending child Bit. As an adult, Bit trades the open community and its inherent dangers for the quiet and secure life of a college professor and part-time photographer. He also leaves Arcadia and all of its ideals behind him, and rarely looks back. Yet it has indelibly left its mark on him, and the close of the novel is a return to his beginnings for a bittersweet end. I was so captivated by this novel that I ended up reading it in one sitting, staying up half the night to do so. While I don't feel as if it had a major affect on me, on my thinking, or on my understanding of the world, it did leave its impression on my imagination, and I passed the evening with a great character in a setting so unlike my own that I was enthralled. Because it's a coming of age novel, there are certainly relatable aspects, but I found myself more able to recognize my own wants and needs in the middle aged Bit who was trying to keep his family together and make sure his daughter knew she was loved. I think there will be something everyone, at some level can relate to in this novel, which is one of the things that makes it so readable. I'm sure it will be a hit, but ultimately for me, it was just another novel to pass the time with. I liked it, I really and truly did, and I would highly recommend it, but it's not one I'm likely to return to.
KatyBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This excellent novel has both beautiful writing and a fascinating story with characters that live and breath in the reader's mind... It was easy to get caught up with this book that is told from the view of a tiny boy named Bit, raised in the heaven/hell of an idealistic hippie commune of the 60's called Arcadia. Bit's story stretches all the way from his earliest childhood memories, through his adolescence and a rough entrance into the regular world after the disintegration of the commune, and then on through the joys/fears of becoming a father, being abandoned by his wife (a fellow former commune child), and the agony of watching his hippie parents get old...and the story even stretches on into the near future of 2018 with global warming and viral epidemics. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would never work but Lauren Groff is just that good. She especially shines in bringing to life all the population of Arcadia, the flawed musician leader Handy, the Kid Herd, the Naturists, the burnt-out Trippies, the Hens (pregnant girls), the goon squad, the midwives, and so on...both the strong and beautiful but also the crash 'n burns. Her talent lies in the details - - in lovely, perfect descriptions of nature or golden moments of time, or in gray dusty layers of abandonment and ruin and the desperate blackness of depression. In one section, she describes an old, lost cemetery like this: "...Stones stick out of the snow-burned grass, and Bit thinks of Astrid's teeth, the way they are haphazard and yellow. He sits to gather himself, and finds his fingers tracing words carved in the stones. 'Minerva' one says. 'Whose Name Is Writ In Air. 1857, another says. A tiny one, a milk tooth, says simply, 'Breathed once, then lost.' " Just a small thing, describing a tiny gravestone as a milk tooth, but so indelible.Very highly recommended.
4daisies on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arcadia is the story of a commune in the 60s told from the viewpoint of it¿s youngest original member who¿s parent¿s were among the founders. The commune leaders have lofty ideals and good intentions with the possible exception of their leader Handy who is a well known rock musician and perhaps just enjoys the adoration and devotion of his large ¿entourage¿. I don¿t want to give too much away so I will just say that the arc of the story shows the birth, growth and eventual demise of the commune (which seems inevitable), but the most interesting part is what happens to the scattered members after they leave and enter the ¿real world¿. Even what happens to the commune property is not left to imagination. I really enjoyed this book and came to care about all of the characters. It is a beautiful and haunting story that does not romanticize the era at all, yet fills me with admiration for those who attempted to create their ideal society.
booklove2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Newborn Ridley Sorrel Stone is taken to the grocery store to be weighed by his hippie parents on the produce scales -- he weighs three pounds. The grocer lady "cussing out all we longhairs" takes one look at Ridley and says "Oh, well if that ain't the littlest bit of a hippie ever made!" That is the warm hearted reaction that many of the the other characters, and any reader, gives to Bit through his life and this book. Bit seems like a character from another book you can't place... or maybe the writing is done so well that you feel you have really met him and the other characters. They don't seem like characters at all. Bit is gentle and sensitive yet strong all through his life, very perceptive, a thinker. The hippie commune that Bit is born in, Arcadia, is one big family. They fix up a mansion in New York, big enough for hundreds to live in. The love between all of Arcadia is at the level of a typical family, and the love shown between the actual families in Arcadia is even stronger. But this utopia they aim for can't go on forever. The second half of the book takes Bit to a present day New York City as an adult with his daughter. He is a photography professor at a college. The world is fighting a spreading disease and Bit's beloved mother is fighting an illness. A very slow illness, that takes a lot of the book (too much, I think), but it gets Bit and his daughter Grete back to Arcadia. For the first part of the book being so sunny (much like the almost neon cover of the book), the second is filled with darkness. Nature's beauty seems to help in dark times. But even in Arcadia's heyday, Bit's mother Hannah suffers from depression, which passes on to Bit. This is helped by a certain magical quality within the story and Arcadia itself... a prank involving a diorama with toadstools and Monopoly houses spray painted gold is a particular favorite! I like that this book never really had a "villain" but since Bit is such a likeable character, I wouldn't have wanted that for him anyway.I wish I had known where specifically in New York this book takes place. Let's just say the hospital the characters visit is in the same city that I would visit in an emergency, so who knows? Arcadia could be my back yard! I really would have liked to read Groff's previous novel 'The Monsters of Templeton' before this one (it has been on my TBR pile a while now, but so has a billion other books) but the advance reader copy of 'Arcadia' was calling. Lauren Groff's writing style and attention to detail is superb. The imagery is very memorable. I can't wait to see what Groff writes next. Similar books to 'Arcadia' : 'Drop City' by T.C. Boyle (another amazing novel on hippie communes trying to find their place), 'The Beach' by Alex Garland (the unending search for utopia that falls apart), 'Swamplandia' by Karen Russell (the unusual childhood with a bit of magic) and a bit like Alice Hoffmann's magical yet realistic writing style.
JoLynnsbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An involving, lyrical novel, Arcadia is the story of a commune of 'the free people' in upstate New York, told through the character of the first child born into the community, Bit Stone. We see Arcadia grow and then thrive, largely through the efforts of Bit's parents and a handful of other free people who truly embrace the principles on which Arcadia is founded. Bit introduces us to the many colorful characters of Arcadia, first through the eyes of a child, and later through the eyes of an unworldly but somewhat mature adolescent . Inevitably, the commune is destroyed by too many interlopers and the fall from grace of its charismatic leader, Handy. One by one the free people abandon or are banished from Arcadia. What will happen to them, and especially Bit, in the real world?The novel is beautifully written. People and locations are portrayed keenly, vividly. Tenderness, love, beauty, pain. It's all here, and more.
GCPLreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thank you to the publisher and the LT Early Reviewer program for the gift of this book. Fans of T.C. Boyle's Drop City will enjoy this novel of the birth and demise of a hippie commune in New York State. The main character is Bit -- a little bit of a boy who spent his first 14 years entirely within the commune. The author writes beautifully of the highs and lows of the commune and of Bit's relationship with his father and depressed mother. The second half of the novel, when the family flees to NYC, was less focused and less successful for me. Still, a very interesting read from an author I expect to read more of in the future.
SallyRose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arcadia I have been to Arcadia. This is one of those rare books in which the writer hypnotizes you. I had a hard time getting through this book as I could only read a few pages at a time. Not being a physiologist, I can only wonder why. I think it was too rich for my mind to handle in large doses. The story starts with a hippie commune in Arcadia, New York, built on the idealist premise that all human being are equal with the same work ethic. Then the freeloaders and the king pin (Handy) erode the system. This story we hear through a sensitive child's (Bit) brain as a toddler on through the middle age of 55years old, a photographer in the City. We only know what his brain tends to tell and therefore no quotation marks are used. There is no big ¿Wow¿ moment as the story is of ordinary people living their ordinary lives. With a quiet, introspective, telescopic glimpse of Lauren Groff¿s characters in the mind of Bit Stone we get to read on that road. With the writing of Lauren Groff we are transported to the world of beautiful phrases and thoughts.
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best book I've read this year, even with reading some great ones. Possibly better than anything I read last year.Characters are believable, situations are believable - if maybe a little toward the edge of believability. The writing itself was beautiful, poetic without being flowery. Description so in depth without slowing the story down. Numerous characters, but each described well enough that I only found myself losing track once or twice - and there are a lot of characters flitting in and out. It read real enough to be a history, but a history being told by someone able to transport you there with their words so well that you'll begin to feel like you're hearing your own story retold. I have yet to read Groff's other books, but I definitely will be picking them up.
sunqueen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent read. Bit, the narrator of this story, begins his tale when he is just a very young boy. It was interesting to see the progression of events as told from his POV, gaining sophistication and increased understanding as he grew up in the commune.