Arcadia

Arcadia - also available at: http://parnassusreads.comArcadia 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.