I felt the air being knocked out of my chest on more than one occasion while sinking into Arcadia. Lauren Groff’s prose is sparse and beautiful, and there’s no way for me to accurately describe it without further muddying it into oblivion. She tells only what needs to be told; moments are fleeting, endings are organic, and jumps through time are poignant and crushing. I felt the ache of nostalgia for things that I have never experienced. I felt long-gone youthful optimism harden and calcify into flinty reserve and resolve. I felt the warmth of each character’s body as the pushed, held, and jostled each other from the page.
There is something familiar here; it hangs like a damp picnic blanket thrown over the shoulders after rain sets in on an outdoor concert. It’s lovely and terrible. A smell of wet grass, mud, and smoke. I will always love a good stab at utopia, and will always relish in the inevitable downfall of a group of people tasked with looking beyond themselves who are clearly not capable of doing so. Arcadia tells the story of..well, Arcadia- a commune in upstate New York and the misfits and renegades who build, destroy, and rebuild their shining city on the hill.
Bit, a “little bit of a hippie” provides our eyes, heart, and brain as he tries to make sense of the world within Arcadia; his mother’s episodes, his father’s idealism, his best friend’s return from the outside world with shoplifted cassettes. Every feeling for Bit is a first; every sight is new, every taste is strange. It was difficult to let him go; I did not want to be another missing friend along his way.