If you're old enough to remember an era of history does it make a novel about that time more interesting for you? Or do you just get annoyed because the author has gotten some details wrong? In the case of Lauren Groff's Arcadia it's neither for me. Although I remember the 60's and 70's, I have no idea if she got the details right because I have no idea what life was like if you joined a commune. But I admit I've always been curious.
The story is seen through the eyes of Bit (Ridley Sorrel Stone), child of commune members Abe and Hannah, who live in a bread truck in the sprawling commune Arcadia somewhere in upstate New York. In the book's four sections Groff shows us Bit at pivotal times in his life: at five, at fourteen, in his twenties and approaching fifty. The commune is not painted in idyllic tones, but in the early sections it's easy to see Bit's love of the beauty of nature, even as he struggles to understand the adults around him. His turbulent adolescence is mirrored in the turbulence and discord within the group itself. And as an adult he and other commune members struggle to fit into life outside Arcadia.
But Groff isn't just telling a story about the effects of commune life. She is ultimately telling a story about families, and she creates an array of complicated, flawed but believable characters. Her beautiful descriptions of nature combined with her sensitive portrayal of the evolution of a family made this an interesting read for me.