There are myriad behaviors shared among all humankind that tie each person to the next. Over time, these behaviors form recognizable and predictable trends. Among these is the seemingly innate desire by some to organize society or select groups in the attempt to maximize happiness and achieve some level of worldly perfection. From the Essenes of Ancient Judea to the Transcendentalists of Nineteenth Century America, people have endeavored for thousands of years to build a utopia.
Earlier this year, Lauren Groff published her second novel entitled Arcadia. It follows a fictional group of Americans in the 1970s which forms a commune sequestered in rural New York on the land surrounding an old, decaying house known as the Arcadia House. There they wish to live what is - in their minds - a righteous life of free love, strict vegetarianism, shared work, and the prohibition of the keeping of pets (considered by them to be animal slavery).
With the narration being a mixture of omniscient voice and the internal musings of the son of one of the founding couples, Ridley Sorrel Stone (but referred to almost exclusively as Bit), the reader follows this ragtag band of merry pranksters in their journey from traveling caravan to Arcadia and beyond. As a spectrum of characters is introduced throughout, the reader is constantly engaged with their personal quirks and life stories.
Despite the best efforts by many, the fruit that results from these idealistic labors is bittersweet, and through it all, Bit remains a steadfast observer. He witnesses the happenings and consequences of the wishful dreams of gentle people who wanted nothing more than to live in peace and harmony. However, the realities of modern life cannot be avoided forever, and the world that was being eschewed nevertheless came to Arcadia, sans invitation.
Framing the story is Ms. Groff’s wonderful writing. Her descriptions of nature, people, and events bring the reader directly to that Arcadia. The reader feels surrounded by the characters, sharing in their everyday joys, sorrows, hopes, and triumphs.
“But this morning, Bit wakes alone, heart racing. The icicles in the window are shot with such red light of dawn that Bit goes barefoot over the snow to pull one with his hand. Inside again, he licks it down to nothing, eating winter itself, the captured woodsmoke and sleepy hush and aching cleanness of ice.”
Ms. Groff is also the author of the novel The Monsters of Templeton (2008) and a collection of short stories, Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories (2009).
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