I really enjoyed Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton so i was very excited to be able to read this book before the March release date, thanks to Netgalley for that!
Of course, everybody knows Arcadia best as the Duran Duran spin-off group from 1985 featuring Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor (So Red the Rose— such an awesome album!!). This book is not about that Arcadia. It starts with Hannah and Abe– parents to be– who decide to follow the magnetic, musician “Handy” to his Utopian community called Arcadia. It is the late 1960’s when hippie communes are all the rage. Hannah’s baby comes early and “the littlest bit of a hippie ever made” is born. Ridley “Bit” Stone is the first-born Arcadian and this is his story.
The first 2 parts take place in Arcadia: We first meet Bit at 5 and he charms the pants off you right from the start! He is living amongst the “Free People” where everything is peace, love and good times. The Arcadia House mansion is finally finished (thanks to Abe’s engineering background and strong work ethic) and Hannah will be feeling better now that spring is coming (she gets the winter blues). Bit is surrounded by love and a cast of colourful characters. Life doesn’t get any better than this!
Fast forward 10 years and Arcadia has become over grown. There are too many hippies and not enough space, food or love to go around. The pigs are onto their “Pot Plot” and Handy’s annual concert attracts 1000’s more people than Arcadia can handle. Bit is now a teenager subject to free love, free drugs and his “new” relationship with a long time friend confuses him. He struggles to keep it together. The disaster that is “Cockaigne Day” ends up breaking the commune apart and Bit’s small family leaves to live in the cold “outside world”.
The last 2 parts take place outside of Arcadia: Bit is in his 30’s now and has a 3-year-old daughter named Grete. The mom is out of the picture but she IS someone from his past (won’t say who). We watch Bit struggle as a photography teacher and single dad dealing with post September 11th New York City, a student crush and keeping in touch with the old gang from the commune.
The book ends in 2018, Grete is 16 or 17 and Bit is almost in his 50’s. Oddly, the world is in the midst of some kind of pandemic viral outbreak. Abe and Hannah decide to move back to Arcadia to live out their golden years in the place where they were the most happy. Hannah is eventually diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Bit and Grete are called upon to help. This puts a strain on their already complicated relationships.
Wow! I didn’t really mean to write such a large summary! So, the verdict– like in The Monsters of Templeton, it is obvious that Lauren Groff is a master of description– you could smell that stinky hippie commune a mile away! Her characters were real and you wanted to know everything about them. I did think that the gap between Arcadia and post-Arcadia made the story seem a little incomplete though. The transition from “hippie love commune” to the “cold outside world” was basically glossed over and what information you did find out was more about other characters rather than Bit. As heart touching as it the end part was I would have easily traded it out to hear about Bit’s adjustment period– that it would have made quite the story in itself! Still, a unique and interesting read– 3 and a half stars.