What is it really like to be raised in a commune, and what are the lifetime consequences? Those are the questions raised by Lauren Groff in her new novel Arcadia.
Groff writes in a stream-of-consciousness manner, which can take some getting used to. Nonetheless, the book is beautifully written, with introspective dialogue and colorful characters.
The story is narrated by Bit Stone, the son of hippies Abe and Hannah. It is the early ´70s, and the family lives on land in upstate New York that had been inherited from another member of the commune. The community works together to build housing and storefronts. They come up with an economic system where everyone must contribute. They fight. They love each other. They grow up together. They raise each other’s children. In short, they form a family, but one that is segregated from society at large.
As the commune meets its inevitable end because of social and legal pressures, the book jumps forward in time. Bit is still the narrator, but as he matures, his voice matures. How the former commune members adapt to living in the real world is a huge part of the storyline and makes for thought-provoking reading. Bit ends up marrying a childhood sweetheart from his Arcadia days, but she is never able to shake off her origins.
The undertones of the book are not happy ones. The bond, though, between the characters, between parent and child and lover and friend, despite all of their mistakes and hurt that they’ve inflicted upon each other over the years, is at the heart of the book.