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Arcadia Hardcover – 5 Apr 2012
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In reality, this is a family saga of sorts, with the community providing Bit with the family he needs into his adulthood - with all its ups and downs, problems and difficulties. I enjoyed this novel a lot and wished, in fact, that it had been longer. Bit is a wonderful character, so sweet and kind, and it is really refreshing to have a central male character represented in this unstereotypical way - neither macho, nor violent, but sensitive and gentle. Interesting take on a social experiment and would be an ideal book for reading groups, with much to discuss.
We next find Bit in his early 40s teaching in a city college. To describe the story from there on - to its conclusion in 2018 -would spoil the plot really. However, the author makes the point that modern city living may be just as dystopian as the hopeless hippy dreams of the 1960s. The conclusion finds us and Bit back in Arcadia in a very different world. Maybe Arcadia still offers some answers.
The closest novel I can compare this with - if comparisons are valid in amazon reviews - would be TC Cooper's Drop City. So much of writing on the modern commune - non-fiction and fiction - offers the standard "nice idea, but" analysis. However, Lauren Groff does a bit more. She takes her characters into the real world and the big city, and back again. In the end Lauren Groff pleads a more balanced nuanced view.
Of course Arcadia has to succeed as a novel, as a good story and I did really like it. There are a number of characters who recur apart from Bit himself; the reader wants to know what happens to all the people we meet in the beginning. Each is explored both as a person contributing individually to the story. But Lauren Groff is also asking how can such people live together, what type of society works best. Does city living cause deviancy and crime and abuse? Does communal living cure it? Conversely does a commune without rules lead inevitably to dictatorship and abuse? I think the questions she asks are very material and explored well.
Bit is a lovely character to read, you see how much of a part of the commune he is and how close the commune is as they help and look after each other. The original members of the commune are a large feature in Bit and his family's life and as Bit grows he sees people come and go within the commune, runaways, unwed pregnant girls, also individuals who love the idea of a commune but find they do not love the way of life in a commune.
Bit definitely is the essence of the story and its wonderful to see the world through his eyes.
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