Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Hyperion, New York, 2012
Borrowed from my library. I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while. I must admit I was a bit nervous about reading it. The time and place could part of my personal story and, having found Groff’s The Monster of Templeton a bit unbalanced, I wasn’t sure how she would portray this slice of American history. I needn’t have worried.
Arcadia is Ridley Sorrel Stone’s story. Known as Bit, born in a van traveling with a caravan of trucks, buses and VWs searching for paradise, this child grows up in a commune known as Arcadia. Acreage filled with fields and forest and a run-down mansion in upstate New York, lead by musician/guru Handy and overflowing with mid-wives, farmers, bakers and those lost to mind-bending drugs, Arcadia grows and changes along with Bit and his parents, Hannah and Abe.
When Bit closes his eyes, he can see what Abe can see,how Arcadia spreads below him: the garden where the other children push corn, bean seeds into the rows,the Pond. The fresh plowed corduroy fields, workers like burdocks stuck to them. Amos the Amish’s red barn, tiny in the distance. The roll of the forest tucked up under the hills. And whatever is beyond: cities of glass, of steel. from page 80.
This could have been over the top, but Groff handles it gently, in a kind and balanced way. Her writing is vivid, both in depicting Arcadia, the falling-down and rebuilt mansion, and in telling the stories of the people who live there . In reality, not all people living on communes were dysfunctional, some where completely committed to building a new way of living and being. As Bit grows up and ventures into the “real” world he takes the lessons learned from his parents, his “extended” family and Arcadia with him.
I enjoyed Arcadia, it will be on my Best of 2013 list, and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Groff. In skimming some comments about this novel on GoodReads, I saw several references to “dirty hippies”. Can I say that I find this term highly offensive? Want to talk about it?