Arcadia: Book summary and reviews of Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Arcadia

A Novel

by Lauren Groff

Arcadia
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2012
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what would become a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this rollicking, tragic dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and beyond. What unfolds is an astonishingly beautiful novel about happiness and the impossible dream of perfection.

Arcadia's inhabitants include Handy, a musician and the group's charismatic leader; Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah's only child, the book's protagonist, known as Bit, who is born soon after the commune is created.

While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. If he remains in love with the peaceful agrarian life in Arcadia and deeply attached to its residents, including Handy and Astrid's lithe and deeply troubled daughter Helle, how can Bit become his own man? How does he, a sensitive person, make his way through life and through the world outside of Arcadia where he must eventually live?

With Arcadia, her first novel since her lauded debut, The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff establishes herself not only as one of the most gifted young fiction writers at work today but also as one of our most accomplished literary artists.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. The effective juxtaposition of past and future and Groff's beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. A novel of 'the invisible tissue of civilization,' of 'community or freedom,' and of the precious fragility of lives in the balance." - Kirkus Reviews

"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 That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls

"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

"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

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Reader Reviews

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Sally G. (Saint Johns, FL)

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 Childs (Bit) brain as a toddler on through the middle age of 55years old and 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.

Marjorie A. (Gainesville, Florida)

Steping Into Another World
This book enabled me to enter a world I had imagined for myself but never acted on - living as a hippie on a commune. Life in Arcadia sublime and awful; the characters are multidimensional and believable; and the ending is satisfying leaving me wanting more.

NeNe

Totally absorbing!
I loved this story and grew to love most of the characters. When the book was finished, I felt as though very dear friends had moved far away and that I would miss them greatly. I was moved by the beauty of the prose, often to tears. I will want to read this book again. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys character development and learning about life experienced in circumstances different than those most of us have known.

Lora O. (Antioch, CA)

Arcadia - Best Book read in 2011
This book follows the story of Ridley Stone "Bit", the first child born in Arcadia, a commune founded by his parents and other vividly drawn, quirky, idealists. Bit is one of the most delightful and endearing characters I've ever come across and I enjoyed the journey from the magic of his childhood to his much later life as a father and caring son to his parents. Arcadia was a very flawed and imperfect place despite the efforts of the utopians who created it, but the values Bit grew up with caused him to become an intelligent, gentle, compassionate artist who finds a way to live with grace and sensitivity in a world that becomes increasingly dark, scary and threatening.

Lauren Groff's language is beautiful and I found myself underlining sentences and phrases. I was moved by the tragedies and losses but felt uplifted by the kindness and connections of the characters.

I truly enjoyed every minute of this luminous, offbeat and lovely book. If it had been published earlier, it would have been my holiday gift to my closest friends.

Judy K. (Sunland, CA)

Ideals, Love and Sorrow
Lauren Goff's first novel had plenty of potential but did not live up to my expectations. In Arcadia, she has found her true voice. For me, and possibly anyone involved in hippie culture in the 60s and 70s, this is a moving story. Through Bit, born and raised on a commune, the emotional and developmental results of living outside mainstream American life are brought to full realization.

I gratefully admired Goff's non-judgemental view. Yes, Bit was damaged in certain ways but he retained the values he was taught. His struggle to assimilate in the "real world" feels very true. Idealism always leads to sorrow but at least it contains ideals. The writing is beautiful, in fact astounding.

Annie P. (Murrells Inlet, SC)

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff
When I first began reading this book, my feeling was that the author was spending entirely too much time on the little boy Bit. As I continued to read, it dawned on me that the reason for loitering in his early childhood was to give the reader a feeling of what it was like to live in a commune, the people, the general living conditions, the food, the beliefs and who was in charge of all the decisions, if anyone. Everything in his early childhood gave Bit the outlook on his entire life and how he was able or not to cope with the outside world. His family was first in his life, but he took on many people, relatives by blood or marriage, or Arcadia. This book cleared up a lot of questions of why the true hippies never really assimilated into “society,” at least the kind we take for granted when we haven’t been exposed to a totally different kind of life. The only ones we ever hear of are the addicts and the addled. Very little is told of the people who lived off the fruits of the earth, never ate meat or killed another being, and accepted a very different version of truth and religion, adjusting it to meet their needs. At the end, I loved this book, and wanted it to keep going. I wanted to find out more about Bit and his daughter. I missed Hannah but admired Bit for his devotion. Thank you, Ms. Groff, for a lovely, unusual and fulfilling story. I will look forward to another book in the near future.

...27 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Lauren Groff Author Biography

Photo: Lucy Schaeffer

Lauren Groff was born in Cooperstown, New York. She is a graduate of Amherst College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has published stories in Ploughshares, Atlantic Monthly, Glimmer Train and anthologies such as Best American Short Stories 2007. She is also the author of The Monsters of Templeton and Delicate Edible Birds. She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband and dog, Cooper.

Author Interview
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Other books by Lauren Groff at BookBrowse
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