Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Arcadia by Lauren Groff

This is an excellent book. Lauren Groff creates an intriguing world in a commune called Arcadia and explores humanity's place in the world. We follow Bit as he experiences Arcadia as a child, teenager and then again as an adult with his own child. It is a microcosm of global society, first pinpointing the destructive nature of humanity before acting as a refuge in a time of global strife. Groff's writing is poetic and poignant, mourning loss and yet celebrating life.

The novel is divided into 4 parts: Bit as a young child, as a teenager, as an young father and then as an older adult. The first two parts examine Arcadia through Bit's eyes, and as Arcadia changes with time - overpopulation, internal strife, changing global politics - we see the change in Bit as he matures from the bright-eyed innocence of childhood. As the Slate Audio Book Club noticed, Groff is never judgmental about her subjects; she presents the events as they unfold and allows the reader to pass judgment on the causes and effects.

The last half of the book examines Bit outside of Arcadia. He is a single father living in Queens, lamenting the absence of his wife, who leaves one day without explanation. His sadness is palpable, and Groff's technique in this section is to slow everything down: Bit's day to day life is banal and cliche, but the way he experiences the loss is reveals the impact that the loss of Arcadia had on him - even after 15 years. The final section of the novel marks a return to Arcadia, and Bit's return to a way of living that he has been without since he left as a teenager. The details of the return are compelling and intriguing, and I admire Groff for channeling Margaret Atwood and Marilyn Robinson simultaneously.

To listen to the full Slate Audio Book Club podcast, which I highly recommend, go to this link: Slate Audio Book Club

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