Book Review, Arcadia by Lauren Groff

By MILT GROSS | Jul 27, 2014
Photo by: Milt Gross I found the novel Arcadia to be extremely interesting, largely due to a relative who had been at Woodstock when younger and who recently retired from a city-planner position. The contrast in his early and recent life is typical of many who attended the main event of the hippie culture.

Arcadia is a three-part novel about those who attended a fictitious version of Woodstock called Arcadia in New York State. It shows the characters while at Arcadia, then in middle life, and finally in old age.

The book was a bit depressing as time moves on, but the story is realistic.

I didn’t like the style of writing without punctuation that shows conversation, such as “Hey, Hannah says, setting Bit down.” I found it somewhat difficult reading without quotation marks.

But the story was good, from the heyday of Hippies to the current life of those folks as mature and older.

This book caught my attention, because as a young school teacher, I wanted to live a hippie lifestyle. But I was too poor. I couldn’t afford the grain mill needed to make flour or cereal, and I didn’t have the necessary time. Besides, my first wife was a genuine suburbanite with no inclination nor ability to live a hippie lifestyle.

So I remained a necktie-wearing teacher, although we lived in the country, drank raw milk given us by a neighbor, and picked a few blueberries along the way. I may still be a hippie at heart although retired from a second career as a print news reporter. (It was a hippie who taught me the basics of freelance writing.)

The novel features Bit, whom we follow through his entire life, his parents Hannah and Abe, and a host of other characters.

We first find Bit and his parents living in an old bread truck

on property owned by one who inherited it and who used it as a kingdom for those who followed the hippie lifestyle. Bit’s first home is cold, and the family eventually moves to a large house on the property repaired  to become a home for many young families and individuals.

As an adult, Bit becomes a professor, teaching art in the darkroom -- when film was perhaps not king but the only tool for taking photos.  His wife, Helle, leaves him and Bit continues his life as an ex-hippie. I think a fair description of his adult life goes, “He is cleaning the darkroom at the school, wondering where his dreams went. They were not so very large; they were not too heavy to carry. One legacy of Arcadia is that his push for happiness was out of sync with the world’s; his ambition was for safety, security, a life of enough food and shelter and money, books and life, the luxury of pursuing the truth by art.”

As an elderly man, Bit and his family revisit Arcadia. He muses, “He will miss this quiet full of noise: the nighthawks, the way the woods breathe, the things moving unsuspected through the dark. But he will take with him the canisters full of blasted images and have the pleasure of living them again. They are not nothing, the memories.”

At the end of the book, Bit sits and contemplates, “Pay attention, he thinks. Not to the grand gesture, but to the passing breath.

“He sits. He lets the afternoon sink in. The sweetness of the soil rises to him. A squirrel scolds from high in a tree. They city is still far away, full of good people going home. In this moment that blooms and fades as it passes, he is enough, and all is well in the world.”

A sad story, but likely a true one for that gang of past hippies. It’s the tale of life, a life started with the hope of being different than the majority and ending....at the end.

I bought the book through a mail-order catalogue, Deadalus Books, P.O. Box 6000, Columbia, MD 21046-6000. I forget the price I paid, but it was far less than $15.99 on the back cover. Amazon.com sells this paperback for $16 or $9.99 for the Kindle Edition.

If you’ve ever thought seriously about being a hippie, try this 2012 Hyperion, New York, NY publication, a fictitious look at the very real experience.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014

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