With luscious prose Lauren Groff tells the story of Bit, a boy born in the late 1960’s on a VW bus in a snowstorm in Wyoming, as his parents and their communal caravan drive across the U.S. to settle in upstate New York. The community they found soon after his birth, Arcadia, is Bit’s complete world for his first 15 years. Bit’s experiences of poverty, hunger, cold and isolation are presented with intimacy and unsparing realism. But so too are his experiences of love, acceptance, joy in nature and discovery.
“Arcadia” movingly presents the emotional and physical experiences of Bit and his friends, as well as those of the adults of the community, when the inevitable “crisis” occurs that leads to the disintegration of the group and the exodus of most of its members, including Bit and the other children. The story of Bit’s radically different adult life is the second half of the novel. Groff does an excellent job portraying him in his later years in a way that is wholly consistent, and utterly believable, given the child we have come to know so intimately in the earlier part of the book.
I found the reading by Andrew Garman a bit flat at first. However, his understated and undramatic way of reading allowed the beautiful writing to shine through on its own. I never tired of listening to this book, and found that his voice slipped quietly into the background, so that I might have been reading it on the written page rather than listening to it.
This is definitely the best nonfiction book I read in 2012. The chapters that dealt with individuals in groups I was familiar with, sometimes even close to, were so disturbingly true, that they were painful to listen to. But because those chapters were so true and so real, I felt the chapters on other "different" types of individuals--ones I have not known--were probably very accurate as well. Solomon did a fabulous job reading this book with its many quotations from individuals he personally interviewed. I do not believe a reader other than Solomon would have been able to deliver these powerful and at times heartbreaking words with as much veracity as he did.
This book is a tour de force. It was a long read, but at the end I felt it was worth every minute I spent with it. I learned a great deal, and I had much of what I have known in my life confirmed. It renewed my sense of the complexity of deep human experience, both positive and negative, in the lives of ordinary people.
Too often, classics are read aloud with so much reverence that they sound flat, if true to the authors words. Dylan Baker's many voices in this reading are remarkable, lively, and unflinchingly true to both Steinbeck and the people of the story. This book, one of our greatest American novels, comes to life in this reading. I recommend it without reservation to anyone who wants to read, or re-read this classic.
I bought this to listen to Kate Winslet whom I adore. And the story sounded fairly interesting. Winslet did not disappoint, and I cannot imagine anyone else reading this book as well as she does. In the end, I think the story was an old fashioned potboiler, rather than a true classic. I've read Zola's explanation and defense of the book, at the time of its publication. Frankly, I think he tried too hard to be controversial, and to write a book that is less about believable people than about psychology and emotional excesses that take over human lives, when they least expect them.
Oddly, Zola disappointed me in this book. But Kate Winslet was as good as ever.
I have listened to Zola in the past, and appreciate him as a writer and as a figure in his period of history in France.
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