Monday, January 21, 2013

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

State: New York (Upstate) - 3 of 52
Baked good: Raw citrus cheesecake

ArcadiaArcadia by Lauren Groff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Why I read it: I've had this on my to-read list for a while, but the fact that it was listed on the Tournament of Books pushed me into moving it up on the list.

As a librarian, one of the worst sins to encounter in writing is using someone else's work without crediting it. Groff has some very poetic language in parts of this book, an element of the novel that many reviewers keep mentioning as one of the good parts. Too bad it isn't always hers. She must have used the "center cannot hold" at least twice, it may have been three times. A nice concept. I think Yeats thought so too, when he wrote it. There are multiple moments like this that took me out of the story in annoyance, not just Yeats.

That said, I'm a sucker for a commune story. I went through a phase of reading novels, memoirs, and studies of communal societies, and have visited several in the United States - New Harmony, IN; Amana, IA; the Shaker Village in Pleasantburg, KY.... it is something that will always be interesting to me. The novel focuses on four stages of Bit, a child born to wandering hippies just as approach property inherited by one of their members in upstate New York. First his young childhood, then his early teen years as the commune predictably falls apart, then his life as a new father in Manhattan, right after the towers fall, and then with his aging parents.

I enjoyed the details of Arcadia - the floury air from baking their own bread, the soy-everything diet, the unwashed bodies, the failed attempts at democracy. It was easy to picture, and I was grateful for the lack of religious undertones for once. I feel like the author took the easy way out in having a central male leader figure, but perhaps some things are stereotypes because they are true. In that case, she is forgiven for the pot as well.

The last section of the four, trying to portray a world facing down pending disaster of spreading disease, was her least believable story. The irony is that it gives a weight to the importance of living off the land, while having shown how difficult it is to make an alternate society work in the long-term.

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