This may seem like a weird connection to make because of their very different background settings, but I feel like if you liked the movie Boyhood, you would like the novel Arcadia.
Both stories have a very loose story structure surrounding the coming of age of a boy, and both prefer to offer seemingly random glimpses of moments, most rather innocuous, rather than focus on the most dramatic possible events in life. As such, depending on your attention span and personal preferences, some might see these works as dreamlike and poignant, while others might spend the whole time wondering if the story is ever going anywhere.
To focus more specifically on Arcadia: it’s about Bit, and when we’re first introduced he is 5 years old in a collectivist hippie commune called Arcadia in upstate NY in the 1970’s. Roughly, the first half of the book covers Bit’s life in Arcadia, from its optimistic beginnings through its inevitable collapse under its own weight. From the beginning, Bit is a very introspective child whose observations and thoughts shape Arcadia for the reader through a soft gauzy filter. He’s an unreliable narrator, inasmuch as it’s fair to say so of a young child. Clearly, the members and residents of Arcadia are underfed, overworked, and live without any excess comfort (including heat in New York winters,) and many of them struggle with mental health issues. Their leader, Handy, is a prototypical charismatic egoist who managed to attract a bunch of followers to his way of life but under a thick veneer of New Agey love and happiness, really only has his own best interests at heart. Despite all this, Bit takes to the communal spirit and gorgeous forest surroundings of Arcadia and manages to cobble together a happy enough childhood.
Now, if you’re not already on board with the meandering prose style — told in the third person present in small “moments”, as I mentioned before — that first section is challenging enough to get through. I, myself, was on the fence; I enjoyed the story of Arcadia, but that was despite the writing style. So, when the second half of the book proved to be a jump forward to the near future (late 2010’s) with single-father Bit against the backdrop of a pandemic virus, my reaction was literally “WTF?” As if the weird shift to speculative fiction and near apocalypse wasn’t off-putting enough, Bit himself appeared to have transformed from a thoughtful, laconic hippie to a morose, sickly loner. Almost nothing about this character development made me care more about this character.
A lot of people really loved this book. I was not one of them, though I can see the appeal. The book is under 300 pages but felt way longer than that, to me, since the writing style evoked doing switchbacks up a hill to lessen the grade. As a hiker, when you have to make that much of a compensation, it’s because the peak altitude is much higher and should have a great payoff. Arcadia unfortunately didn’t have that for me.