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Arcadia [Hardcover]

Lauren Groff
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 13 2012
From the bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton comes a lyrical and gripping story of a great American dream.

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 romantic, rollicking, and tragic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after.

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, 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 will he make his way through life and 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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Review

"[Lauren Groff] has taken a quaint, easily caricatured community and given it true universality...And a book that might have been small, dated and insular winds up feeling timeless and vast...The raw beauty of Ms. Groff's prose is one of the best things about Arcadia. But it is by no means this book's only kind of splendor."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"I was constantly torn between wanting to gulp down this book or savor its lines. Even the most incidental details vibrate with life... Arcadia wends a harrowing path back to a fragile, lovely place you can believe in."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"****"—People

"A moving look at the value of human connection in a scary, chaotic world."—Entertainment Weekly

"Lauren Groff's dazzling new novel brings the flawed visions of a '60s commune to life... At a moment when so much floating anger struggles for articulation, it's Groff's essential human empathy that gives her work its urgency."—Vogue

"One of our best young novelists brings a lost Eden of hippiedom freshly to life... Groff's prismatic prose style lends itself to the darker currents that run beneath the Arcadian dream... both poetic and ambitious."—Elle

"Groff's beautiful prose make this an unforgettable read."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"[A] beautifully crafted novel Groff's second novel, after the well-received The Monsters of Templeton (2008), gives full rein to her formidable descriptive powers, as she summons both the beauty of striving for perfection and the inevitable devastation of failing so miserably to achieve it."—Booklist (Starred Review)

"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

"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 the novel That Old Cape Magic and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 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

"An astonishing novel, both in ambition and achievement, filled with revelations that appear inevitable in retrospect, amid the cycle of life and death. A novel of "the invisible tissue of civilization," of "community or freedom," and of the precious fragility of lives in the balance."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

About the Author

Lauren Groff is the author of the New York Times bestselling MONSTERS OF TEMPLETON and the critically acclaimed short story collection DELICATE EDIBLE BIRDS. She has a BA from Amherst College and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared in several literary publications, including The Atlantic Monthly and Ploughshares, and she has won fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Super look into a quite secretive community. April 4 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Loved the fact that we saw the story unfold from the eyes of a young boy, and that the story unfolded for us as he grew older. Well developed characters, though at times, I wish there had been a legend, as there quite a few, and sometimes I needed a refresher since many popped up fear spaced along.
I was immersed into that world quickly and enjoyed every page!
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A friend loaned me Arcadia soon after it was published. She's a writer and a good critic and is not profligate with praise. So when she handed me her copy and said: you Have to read this! I did. Arcadia is one of the most unusual novels I've read. It's also a heartbraker. It's told from the point of view of an exceptional and exceptionally sensitive child growing up in a hippie commune. Lauren Groff's way of describing the child, Little Bit, and being inside his head to show us how he perceives the world, is astonishing. You are drawn in and feel fragile yourself as Bit's life unfolds. There are, in the book, some of the most lovely passages I've ever read. There are turns of phrases that take your breath away. Arcadia is a beautifully rendered, compelling read that will make you remember what it is to be human. I realize this may sound like hyperbole but pick the book up and read for yourself. I loved it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arcadia and why I loved it Feb. 15 2013
By Diane
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
O found that Arcadia was very different from most books. It was extremely well written and entertaining. The plot was unusual and interesting.

I have recommended this book to several people and they all enjoyed it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  240 reviews
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking March 24 2012
By Jayne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I haven't read a novel this involving and moving in a very long time. It's so good that I don't even want to say much about it; it stands on its own, as its own statement. I will say that for me the most impressive thing about the book is its vision. Spanning 40 years or so, it holds a taut center line, so that no matter where the characters go or what they do, the line keeps them in a defined orbit around the core of the book.

Lauren Groff is more than 20 years younger than I am. As I write this, I'm about the same age as the main character in the last third or so of the book. It's almost miraculous to me that someone who hasn't yet reached this age can so accurately peg the combination of nostalgia, bitterness, and regret of looking back at childhood, living in the present, and being uncertain about the future. There's more than a whiff of Peter Pan and Never Never Land in the story, and I mean that in a good way. On top of that achievement, Groff has also constructed a perfectly convincing bridge from a time most of her readers clearly remember to a time we can only imagine.

This is a quiet novel, without drama and histrionics. It's also highly literate and intelligent. Read it. You'll be glad you did.
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life in a Commune April 3 2012
By J. Ehrlich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed it immensely and the writing was lyrical and lovely. I would recommend this book.
I lived in a commune from the age of 17 to almost 30, so I have to add that fact to my review of Arcadia. I will tell you my thoughts, and they are sort of jumbled together, so it's not a "good" or a "bad".... First, the NAMES for things were soooo reminiscent for me! We had a Home Place (Arcadia is the fictional Homeplace). Our Hatchery was Arcadia's "Pink Palace" for where the babies were born. The Monkey Crew (ours was the Construction Crew) ... "Inside" versus "Outside"... I could go on and on. Basically, we had our own language, and so this fact of Arcadia was astoundingly reminiscent and immensely enjoyable.

I believe it is human nature to rebel against what you know, so I had a hard time buying into Bit's unwavering love and loyalty for Arcadia. All the kids that had been born in my particular commune hated living there with a passion. They hated being different, and they couldn't wait to be old enough to bolt. Of course, now that they're older, they do appreciate the sense of family that existed, plus the fact that they have so many brothers and sisters throughout their lives.

I had a hard time with the author's timing of things. Knowing a thing or two about communes, I didn't buy that Arcadia was going strong while Ronald Reagan was in office (circa early '80's). That was after Jonestown. I believe the concept of the hippie commune was on the wane during that time. And the non-self-sustaining issue was also hard to swallow. For a real commune to exist for so long, they would have had to be way more organized than Arcadia was. The book describes Hannah as being pissed off or depressed a lot of the time because there was no money and no food. No one would put up with that for that long, they'd just leave and go back to reality. Way too many freeloaders/hangers-on were depicted -- I know it doesn't work that way. Everyone has to pull their weight, and then some.

The fictional illness toward the end was just silly and served no purpose whatsoever. I felt the author lost her way with this story line.

Still -- an entertaining read that managed to capture a lot of the love/hate, push/pull and sheer physical discomfort -- alternating with occasional blips of ecstacy -- of communal life.
65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'd give it ten stars if I could. March 13 2012
By Leda D. Schubert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I received an advance copy of ARCADIA and have been waiting impatiently for the pub date so I can post a few thoughts (not that anyone's been waiting to hear from me). ARCADIA is a stunning novel. Look elsewhere for a plot summary--I can't do it justice.

The imagery Groff uses on page after page took my breath away--and by the last third or so, I was weeping. Here is the very stuff of life. Hope, dreams, love, how to live, lost hope, lost dreams, lost love, death. Bit, the protagonist, is beautifully crafted and will break your heart.

It's a gorgeous book. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm going to read it again. Writers know that the most particular and specific may also be the most universal. Nevertheless, sometimes a book comes along that you think has been written just for you. ARCADIA is like that. If you care about the world, buy a copy.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through the eyes of a child March 13 2012
By JoLynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An involving, lyrical novel, Arcadia is the story of a commune of 'the free people' in upstate New York, told through the character of the first child born into the community, Bit Stone. We see Arcadia grow and then thrive, largely through the efforts of Bit's parents and a handful of other free people who truly embrace the principles on which Arcadia is founded. Bit introduces us to the many colorful characters of Arcadia, first through the eyes of a child, and later through the eyes of an unworldly but somewhat mature adolescent . Inevitably, the commune is destroyed by too many interlopers and the fall from grace of its charismatic leader, Handy. One by one the free people abandon or are banished from Arcadia. What will happen to them, and especially Bit, in the real world?

The novel is beautifully written. People and locations are portrayed keenly, vividly. Tenderness, love, beauty, pain. It's all here, and more.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant first half; tedious second half July 13 2012
By H. Timberline - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I absolutely LOVED the first half or two-thirds of the story, when Bit was growing up in the commune with his friends and learning about the world at large and HIS world in particular. I thought Groff nailed it - the commune was universally recognizable for what it was, yet never seemed trite or predictable. And within that world, the characters were drawn clearly and specifically. She moved the story along beautifully, so that I scarcely noticed the passage of time.

But the novel ground to a halt once Bit became an adult in the city. I came galloping eagerly out of the first part of the book, and hung with it pretty well during his time as a professor and his troubling non-relationship with Sylvie. But oh my god, the story hangs up dreadfully somewhere in there and becomes annoyingly lyrical as all action nearly stops and Bit becomes almost a non-entity. I am in the final chapters of the book and almost can't stand to read it anymore. I hate to abandon a book I've enjoyed as much as the earlier part of this one, but I'm not sure I can slog through the conclusion. Such a bummer.
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