Arab Today, arab today arcadia by lauren groff
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Arcadia by Lauren Groff

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Arab Today, arab today Arcadia by Lauren Groff

London - Arabstoday

Lauren Groff’s previous novel, The Monsters of Templeton, re-imagined the legends surrounding the writer Fenimore Cooper’s hometown in upstate New York. Now she tackles the central myth of her country: the founding of a utopian community. The pioneers of this new Arcadia – a country estate with a dilapidated manor house – are a bunch of hippies. But far from sitting around getting high, the “Free People” are committed to hard work and sacrifice in pursuit of freedom from the outside world where “everyone’s fat and smells like chemicals”. Freedom and community prove to be uneasy bedfellows, however, and the disintegration of the group is played out in contrast to the tight continuity of their neighbouring utopians, the Amish. We see everything through the eyes of Ridley “Bit” Stone, a boy who in the wild, impressionistic first third of the book is a five-year-old child of nature, trotting between the Sheep’s Meadow and the Bread Truck but always back to the warm embrace of his parents. Small children are natural hippies, so nothing seems strange to him about nudity and love without boundaries. But as he grows into the adolescent of the novel’s middle section, the usual anxieties emerge and he can no longer look at the “bulging, dripping cheesecloths in the soy dairy”, without feeling flustered. Ultimately, Bit forsakes the community for the fat, chemical-scented delights of the real world, but as he makes his life as a teacher and father, he depends on the lessons of the Free People (hard work, open-mindedness) to keep him sane. The final section of this intricately wrought work is set in the near future where a Sars-like plague is wreaking global havoc. Bit, his daughter and his dying mother return to Arcadia to live in healthy seclusion from the infected world. Spring water, wild food and the fellowship of their Amish neighbours sustain them. Groff has written a powerful, sometimes overwhelmingly intense paean to the human desire to make the right sort of place to live. From the child’s-eye view of nature to the adult theme of caring for the sick, Arcadia’s careful critique of man’s various attempts to get life right prove that a tie-dye heart needn’t be incompatible with a pinstripe suit.

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