Arcadia by Lauren Groff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wasn't quite sure how I felt about this one - at times it was really engrossing, and at times my mind wandered or I wondered what the author wanted me to get from that episode. Overall it was a good read, and certainly a good nostalgia read for those who want to know more about the hippie commune movement of the 70s. Having said that, it's not historical fiction (the timefrom moves from 1970s-2018!).
This is the life of Ridley "Bit" Scott, the first-born Arcadian. His parents, Abe and Hannah, joined Hardy's intrepid group somewhere out West and Bit was born (it appears prematurely) as they made their way East. Ultimately they end up on a 600+ acre property in Upstate New York, where the winters are harsh but the ground is good for growing and there's the possibility that the Arcadians can live in peace with the land. We meet Bit at/in Arcadia at the ages of 5/5 and 14/15, both pivotal times for the commune, then again at 35 and 50-ish, post-Arcadia.
The life of the Arcadians, the power of a charismatic leader, how communes can work well and then implode, and how people dedicated to a cause and belief can become disillusioned are all explored in the first two sections - that's the best part of the book. By the time Bit is an adult, married with child and working at a university, the book has lost a little of its power. It would have been more interesting to see Bit evolve in the World Outside Arcadia (although that is shown) that it was to hear him go on about Helle. His observations about digital fasts and technology today (during the 35y.o. segment) also could have been expanded into something more.
It's the last part, the future of 2018, that I think bothered me the most. It was almost as if the author wanted to show that the world Arcadia was founded to prevent was, in fact, inevitable. And even though Bit (and Abe and Hannah) have stayed in touch with a core group of Arcadians, we don't get a good sense of their lives 30+ years on (which would have been really interesting, particularly since some - like Dylan - have radically changed).
ARC provided by publisher.