Date: March 13, 2012
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic, and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after.
My review: Maybe I just love books about communes and utopias too much, but this is the second novel about an intentional society that I have read and absolutely loved this year. (Second may not seem like much, but there's just so many novels about the subject - sarcasm intended.) Onwards to some of the many things I loved about Arcadia:
1) The setting is so realistic, yet the story has a somewhat magical quality to it. It takes a pretty great author to make the gritty, poor community of Arcadia actually seem nice and ideal for a significant portion of the time. Granted, if the story was told from another character's viewpoint, the place wouldn't seem so great.
2) Only half of the book actually takes place at the commune. I thought the novel would fall flat after that, but it never even came close. Groff's look at how the characters mature and adapt after they leave "utopia" is as fascinating (and well-written) as her examination of the community.
3) Groff's writing is amazing (see above about realistic vs. magical feel, life-after-utopia, etc.), and her novel becomes a bit of a genre-bender and incorporates some pretty cool stuff into the storyline. The plot as seen through five-year-old Bit's eyes is infused with details from the Grimms' stories. There are several references to other legends, utopian novels and attempts, and related subjects. The ending edges towards the apocalyptic in a realistic way rather fit for the inhabitants of a commune such as Arcadia, and the conclusion is a perfect blend of the bittersweet and the hopeful.
So...go read this book! The subject is unique, the writing is exemplary, the characters are great, the plot is well-developed - what more is there to want?
For more books on communes and utopias, please see the following posts:
Island by Aldous Huxley
Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne