Sunday, May 13, 2012

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

A child cast out of a seemingly idyllic commune cannot get over the rupture

This is the story of Bit, the first child born on the commune of Arcadia in upstate New York.   He is quiet, tiny and precocious. In this novel, we see the world through his eyes – the heroic men and women – mother Hannah and father Abe, the young people who abandoned the straight world and tried to build a new one free of distortions and hang-ups. Only guess what – human nature reasserts itself and there is just as much greed, hypocrisy and power struggle in Arcadia as in the real world.

The first part of the book describes the life on the commune.  The inevitable collapse of Arcadia feels a bit forced and the story peters out after the family leaves.  Also, the forward momentum of the story is not helped by the use of Bit as the narrative consciousness – he’s passive and Christlike.

I have been reading Lauren Groff’s short stories and admired her facility with language, the gorgeousness of it, though sometimes I felt the core of a story was too sentimental, non nutritious. But here the prose was determinedly not showy, sticking to a muted palette of metaphor, the turnips, the tofu, the mud – the stuff you find on a commune. I didn’t buy Bit’s love affair and subsequent child with Helle, the troubled child of Handy, the creepy commune founder. She’s a heroin addict and it wasn’t emotionally set up for me why Bit would be in love with her or have a child with her.

In some ways the most moving part of the story was at the end when Bit's caring for his terminally ill mother was described. She had always been depicted as physically strong and extremely self sufficient. That part felt real and was very moving.

I liked it but the different sections didn't quite gel for me.

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