Novel Comments

11 Apr

It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel upon which I wanted to comment. However, Lauren Groff’s (2012) beautifully written Arcadia has changed that. Her book begins by taking her main character, nicknamed Bit, from his infancy to middle adolescence in a utopian society, Arcadia, in western New York around the 1960’s-1970’s. She describes his years and struggles afterwards when he lives in the city. She ends with his return to Arcadia in his middle age, in a time a little later than the present day. Although not a single themed book, I found the dominant theme to be the tension between security and threat.

Bit was born to parents who helped established what was supposed to be a communal safe haven, Arcadia. He experiences both safety and danger from the adults around him, the land within Arcadia, and the Grimm fairy tales he reads voraciously. He witnesses the long erosion and finally fall of Arcadia itself from the influx of many other, less than idealistic new members who have conflicting needs that they want to have met by the commune. Also, there is the increasingly obvious self-indulgence of spiritual leader. Regretfully, Bit and his parents leave for the city.

In his middle years Bit returns to the now empty Arcadia with his daughter to be with his mother in her dying. Various Amish people and former Arcadians come in and out to offer aid and comfort. The Arcadian-based relationships are the most meaningful he has made in his life. Arcadia also is offering refuge from a world-wide pandemic that is raging outside.

Through his memories of  the Arcadia that was and though his experiences in the present day Arcadia, he finds some peace. He concludes that possibilities for threat and security are always present. He finds his well-being in the appreciation in the times of satisfaction, even though they are fleeting. As Groff said in the last paragraphs, “He will wait for the hushed spaces in life….Pay attention….Not to the grand gesture, but to the passing breath” (p. 289).

I will look forward to reading more from this author.

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