There are times when I start to read a novel and by the first sentence I am completely hooked, reluctant to put it down and always thinking about the next moment that I will have a free minute so that I can pick it up again and continue to read the story. There are other times when I read a few pages and lose interest, dropping it down on the pile of books on my nightstand, sometimes going back to it on another day, other times just leaving it there until it makes it's way back into one of my book cases. And then there are the times that I start a book, and have a little trouble in the beginning, but keep at it, because I know deep down that it is going to be a gem of a story, one that will hold onto my heart for a long time.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff falls into the latter category. Set in three different periods of time, Arcadia follows little Bit's life, from when he is born into a commune named Arcadia in the late 60's, through his early 30's in New York City and then finally back in Arcadia in his 50's. Born to Abe, a pillar of the Arcadian community, and Hannah, strong and beautiful but prone to bouts of debilitating depression, the only life Bit knows until his early teens is that of Arcadia. A commune based on utopia ideals that works and then falls apart, where everyone works together to create a place where the rules of the outside world are not needed in order to survive. Where music and love and hard work create a home where happiness is meant to be prevalent, and politics, hypocrisy and hatred are non-existent. Arcadia works well in a confined place with a small amount of inhabitants but once it becomes popular the population grows and grows, and the ideals inevitably start to crumble. We see Arcadia through Bit's eyes and hear it's music through Bit's ears, we become part of his life, ask the same questions as him, love his friends the way he loves them and fall in love with the troubled Helle, the girl and then woman who occupies his heart even when he doesn't want her to, when he does. When Arcadia falls apart Abe and Hannah decide to take their son out into the world, before they are crushed by the consequences, and Bit has to learn how to live as most people live, away from the protection of the commune and from the freedom he always knew.
Groff's prose is absolutely beautiful. Her descriptions of Arcadia are stunning and so realistic you can only imagine being there; however, it is the way that she portrays love, heartbreak and pure sadness that really hit me in the stomach. We all know these feelings all too well, but when the prose you are reading actually makes you feel the exact emotions the main character is feeling, down to the very core, something special happens. It's as if it releases something inside of you, a mixture of pure sadness and the realization that you have touched something very beautiful and very clear. I hope that one day my own writing can create the same type of feeling in others, because there is something so incredible about how this type of writing continues to make you feel, days after you have finished the book. Groff has an amazing talent, and I hope she continues to create such wonderful stories for us.
Arcadia is not only a terrific story in itself, it is also, in my opinion, a stunning piece of literature.
Lauren Groff's Website