Arcadia by Lauren Groff '01: Discussion


Dear Amherst Reads community,

Once again, I find myself delighted and humbled to have a book featured on Amherst Reads. I am aware of just how many things compete for our attention these days, and am grateful to my readers for lending me theirs for a spell. This group of readers feels particularly right to read my book because Arcadia is deeply concerned with questions about community and utopia and the possibility of happiness; and I see Amherst as a near-utopian community where I was deeply happy.

The book came out of a difficult time, however: I had just moved to Gainesville, Florida, knew nobody there, and was awaiting the publication of my first novel. I was also pregnant and I am the opposite of radiant when I'm pregnant; I grow melancholic and mopey and run the risk of pretty severe depression. I felt myself going that way, and knew that I had to start a new project, quick, to begin to pull myself out; I do better when I'm fascinated by something. I began to research happiness, then somehow tipped over to idealism, then utopianism, then utopian projects in the United States, which is the most utopian of countries. At one point, I hefted my belly into my Civic and visited a few intentional communities, some that flared briefly in the mid-19th century, some of which began and ended in the mid-20th century. The two that struck me hardest were Oneida, in upstate New York, and The Farm, in Tennessee. Both places moved me. I felt so strongly attached to them that reading about their respective collapses sparked the story of Arcadia.

The story follows Bit Stone, a child born in a 1970s community in upstate New York called Arcadia, from the community's idealistic founding to its collapse when he's fourteen. It picks up again when Bit is forty, and trying to negotiate living in the city, which is a more isolated and cynical place than Arcadia. The last part of the book pushes to 2018, when Bit is fifty, and problems from today have grown and are now looming over the city. I hope you enjoy the book, or, at the very least find it interesting.

Warm regards,