Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Arcadia follows the life of an unusually small man, Ridley Sorrel Stone, 5 feet, 3 inches, born in the late 1960s. Most people call him Bit. He grew up in Arcadia, a hippie commune in New York State. This part made me think of Findhorn, an intentional community in Scotland, where I stayed for a short while.
The relationships, politics and spiritual beliefs that swirl around Bit in his childhood are absorbed in the context of his mother Hannah's mental illness. He is not just a quiet boy, he is voluntarily mute, and strongly influenced by Grimm's fairytales at a very young age.
Groff's language is delicious:
"The icicles in the window are shot with such light of dawn that Bit goes barefoot over the snow to pull one with his hand. Inside again, he licks it down to nothing, eating winter itself. The captured woodsmoke and sleepy hush and achingness of ice. His parents sleep on. All day, the secret icicle sits inside him, his own thing, a blade of cold, and it makes Bit feel brave to think of it."
The second half of the book jumps to Bit in adulthood. He is a successful photographer and university professor, raising a family in New York City. The final section is set in 2018.
Somewhere in the book, Groff describes a novel as "one full life enclosed in covers." That is exactly what you will find in Arcadia. It's complex, dark, and lovely.
Readalikes: Flower Children (Maxine Swann) and The Forrests (Emily Perkins).