Book Review: Arcadia by Lauren Groff


3/5 Stars.

Oh, Lauren Groff. Your purple prose. Your absence of quotation marks. Your writing is actually quite beautiful, but that isn’t good enough for you, apparently. What does it mean for a girl to have a “sweet cupcake face” anyway?

I went back and forth between feeling like this book was a total slog and finding it utterly compelling. This is my second Lauren Groff book. With Fates and Furies, I loathed the first half and loved the second half. With Arcadia, my emotions didn’t reach such extremes, but my experience was the exact opposite: I enjoyed the second half much more than the first half.

Arcadia presents us with the life of Bit, born in an idyllic commune in the middle of the woods in the 1970s. It follows him from childhood through adulthood, as he is eventually forced to assimilate in the outside world.

He falls in love, experiences life-altering tragedy, has a child of his own and ultimately finds himself returning to the commune years later, as if it were part of his destiny.

Arcadia is about a utopian dream—at its best, its worst and everything in between. It’s about life, and what matters most within it: family, love, community. It’s a complete, fulfilling story with remarkable beauty and depth if you’re willing to endure Groff’s ostentatious prose.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

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4/5 Stars.

It took me a long time to get into this one. About 200 pages, to be exact. Lauren Groff’s writing style takes some getting used to: she jumps around in time quite a bit, and often thrusts the reader into a scene abruptly so that it takes a few paragraphs to find one’s bearings. At times, her similes and word choices are pretentious to the point of eye rolls.

Still, I stuck with it, having the feeling that I would be rewarded for my patience. I was right.

The story, about a married couple, is divided into two halves. The first half, Fates, tells the story from the perspective of Lotto, a narcissistic yet good-natured playwright to whom fate has been unusually kind (ostensibly). Lotto meets Mathilde shortly before college graduation, and weeks later the two are married. Their marriage baffles their friends: Surely the outgoing, lovable Lotto and the cold, reserved Mathilde won’t last more than a year. (Wrong: they last for decades.)

Suddenly, halfway through the novel, the perspective changes. In the second half, Furies, we get Mathilde’s story. And this is where it really starts to get interesting. Mathilde’s section tells of her background (the secrets she has kept to herself all these years) and fills in the cracks from Lotto’s story, giving us much deeper insight into their marriage.

We learn how little Lotto truly knew Mathilde. We find that rather than being shaped by Lotto’s fates, much of their story has been engineered by Mathilde’s furies.

Ultimately, this is a complex, interesting novel with incredible depth, in spite of it taking quite some time to get there. Groff’s writing can be bloated and eyeroll-worthy, yes, but she also employs interesting narrative techniques, like inserting an omnipotent voice that responds to some of the characters’ thoughts parenthetically, as if the gods themselves are watching and judging.