Ridley Stone, better known as "Little Bit of a Hippie," or just "Bit," grows up in a commune in the western New York town that gives Lauren Groff's second novel, Arcadia, its title. Born in the late 1960s to parents who have already joined Arcadia House--a community dedicated to veganism, communal property and general freedom--Bit spends his entire young life within its confines. Its struggles and joys are his, its denizens his family: his parents, Hannah and Abe; his friends Cole and Dyllie; Verda, the hermit who lives alone in the Arcadia woods; and Helle, Bit's first love, who haunts the novel as well as Bit's heart.
After an Arcadian party gets out of hand and ends in tragedy, the community breaks up. Bit, like many others, winds up in New York City. He becomes a photographer, an observer hiding behind the lens of his camera, living his life on the fringes of a busy world--mostly in pursuit of Helle. But, as Helle disappears and the world begins to fall apart, Bit finds himself drawn back to Arcadia, caring for his father, then his mother and then, ultimately, himself.
Arcadia is a powerful tale, with a narrative structure that echoes Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Its subject matter is less overwhelmingly dark, though. As Bit struggles with forces and feelings he does not understand and cannot control, hope lights Arcadia's pages, quiet but undeniably present. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Literary Cricket