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Review: “Arcadia,” by Lauren Groff

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This lovely story, sent to us by Lindsay, has so many beautiful sentences that it caused me to place little bookmarks in places so that I could go back and re-enjoy lines and passages. It does tend to capture what I imagine to be the time and feeling and life that must have been a part of the "commune" experience of the late 60's, 70's and beyond. Although there was lots of talk and writing about these enclaves of hippiedom, I never really knew of one or really knew anyone who actually lived in one for any length of time. I knew people who lived in kind of communal houses (a reasonable number of people 8-10-12) living together, kind of cooking and free, but not a real commune as depicted in this book. The author appears to be too young to have any experience of this except through myth and legend, unless perhaps, her own parents had some kind of experience. More a character sketch of the main character, Ridley "Bit" Stone set against the background of a communal setting, it paints quite a picture of his life. It feels a bit jumpy and I think might have been well served with another 100 pages or so. For me, the first half of the book is more vibrant and touching and the sad, somewhat bleak and forlorn feeling emanating throughout the last third (modern time) take the story to a place that is completely understandable, yet less than satisfying.

A couple parts left me unsatisfied, although on the whole it was engaging, colorful and rich. I don't think the push into the future. (5 years or so from now) was really necessary. The entire science fiction-esque plague that kills millions throughout the earth was not necessary at all. And, if utilized, it feels that there would have been much more concern on all the major characters. It's hard to imagine that Bit's parents would have really attempted suicide. Bit was their center in so many ways that even in their late 60's with the troubles they had, it did not seem realistic that they would have chosen such a path. Also, I loved Helle, but something was amiss in the structure of her character, especially when she and Bit have a child and are together for so long. I'm not looking for a happy ending here, or closure that they eventually find her, but I need more from her. More dialogue, more something. The author is quite a word sculptor and has acquitted herself remarkably well in this novel. It is almost so beautiful in parts that I would not be remiss in reading it again. She evokes such visual fields that I can see Arcadia House easily. I would definitely recommend this book, but I think the reader might have to be chosen very carefully, perhaps not appealing to the general reader.