Arcadia by Lauren Groff – review

Thoroughly enjoyable novel – beautiful, different and so sweetly told.   It’s the story of a boy/man, Bit Stone,  who was the first child born to a loving couple who lived in a commune in northern New York State circa 1968.   Arcadia is as much the story of a commune as it is of anything – the biography of an ideal.  But the story line, the characters and their  lives,  is excellent –  the character of Bit is an astonishing accomplishment.


by Lauren Groff
2012 / 298 pages
read by Andrew Garman –  11h 8m
rating:  9 

Hannah and Abe Stone join up with a group called the Free People and travel around in upstate New York in their van.  Then one of the members is given a piece of land with a large but decrepit mansion on it.  They  decide to fix it up and call it Arcadia.  Their Little Bit is born in a van at some point during this time and grows up there – stays for a full 15 or 16 years, – it’s his home,  the only one he’s ever known.  Somewhat less than half the book is about Bit’s life afterwards.

Communal life is hard but not without rewards.  Abe and Hannah are idealistic and totally loving parents. Their little  Bit is a tiny child and very quiet, also smart and sensitive. He sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels and thinks far more than he speaks. The community works hard but always struggles with the extreme cold and hunger of serious poverty.  And as the group struggles it also grows taking in “trippies,”  “runaways,” and whomever shows up.

The years go by and Bit is 8 years old in 1974 – the year after Nixon said “I am not a crook,” the year of the oil embargo.   National events are mentioned so we can follow the years.

This book really has the feel of authenticity – I was around then  – 20 years old in 1968,  very interested in communal living and some of my friends did it and we visited.  But I didn’t ever feel like subjecting myself or my children to that kind of rather dirty (usually) existence.  I agreed with it though,  and supported, sympathized, encouraged, those who tried to forge out utopian (as close as possible)   cooperative communities,  living the ideals they believed.

This book is maybe not for everyone, but it may be going on my Top 10 of the year and because of it I’ll now have to read Groth’s latest one,  Fates and Furies which has got so much positive attention.


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