Thursday, July 19, 2012


Arcadia, by Lauren Goff - book review

I only read the kindle excerpt, which I believe is the first chapter. That's as far as I'll be going for now until my reading schedule loosens up a bit.

I had to check it out because there's so much noise about this book right now. I think America is reaching a turning point where the whole sixties (this book is set in the seventies, but it's about a hippy commune so we'll just call it the sixties) is leaving the realm of collective memory to enter the history books, and books about the period, free love, Vietnam war etc. will proceed less from first-person accounts and more from research and the usual framework of historical fiction (interviews, going through scanned newspapers, searching for period diaries, etc.)

I'd probably have been more partial to this read if I hadn't had my expectations bulked up by all the hype. Many reviewers note the writing as "lush", which it isn't, not really. In fact, I wouldn't call it 'bare', but it's closer to 'bare' than 'lush'.

Anyway, my expectations were busted by the actual text. Somehow, I thought I'd get a closer glimpse of the personalities in just such a commune. I'm really fascinated by communities that put their individuality aside and willingly participate in a collective adventure, suspend relations of power and economics, and fully let the spell of the group take command of their destiny. It must be frightening. In this case, we won't know, because the main character Bit was born into the community, so he isn't given any choice, it's the only reality he has known from birth. My other problem with this is that, as a child, he has no real judgment on the adult characters, he merely witnesses them through their speech and smell and gifts and bad teeth.

**spoiler ahead**

It's a fun read, though. When the people of the commune need to work together, there are invariably tensions arising from the wants and wills of each and every, and the text describes how they undergo tension-releasing yoga sessions, prescribed by the group's yoga specialist, as often as needed to maintain peace and harmony. Or how Bit's view of the world beyond the commune is the chemical taste of peppermints smuggled to him by a grizzled Vietnam vet.

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