“I started reading about idealists. Oneida. The Farm. People who actually threw away society and tried to create their own perfect place to live … Arcadia became a long painful argument with myself—about what you need to do in order to be happy with bringing children into the world.”
Like Monsters, Arcadia is set in bucolic upstate New York and explores themes of community and identity. But while Monsters mines the past, Arcadia reaches into the future, spanning a 50-year period, from 1968 to 2018, as it follows the rise and fall of a Utopian commune, Arcadia. Narrated by Bit, the first child born in Arcadia, the novel feels intimate even as the commune grows to embrace an ever-widening cast of characters. For a novel about idealism, Arcadia is a surprisingly dark book, with children suffering in a society focused on “equality, love, work, and openness to the needs of everyone” but not necessarily education, health or stability. Ms. Groff’s vision of life outside Arcadia is equally grim; readers may find her rendering of a future New York City to be dire, if not apocalyptic.
“When you look at Utopian communities … they have an apocalyptic view of society, which is an extension of their idealism,” she said. “When I was researching it, I kept seeing it over and over again, and I thought it was fascinating—in the same mind of hope and idealism is pessimism.”
Ms. Groff’s own pessimism has abated. Having recently given birth to a second son, Heath, she admits that the fears that accompanied her first pregnancy now feel overblown. It helps, too, that her own life is much more stable than her characters’—and that she lives without a TV and limits her news checks to twice a day. Twitter is her main portal to the publishing world, and while she sometimes longs for New York’s literary community, she has found a sense of calm in Gainesville, where she moved for the sake of her husband, who helps run his family’s local real estate business.
Gainesville may not be particularly glamorous—she calls it “a mix of the deep South and Connecticut”—but she has, over the years, managed to find a good group of friends. It took her longer than she expected, though, and she still feels isolated from time to time. Musing on the origins of Arcadia, she wondered if the book was in part an attempt to stave off her loneliness.
“I wanted really badly to build a community around myself and living in Arcadia was a way [to do that].”
When asked about her next novel, Ms. Groff would say only that it is “very strange”; she hesitated even to describe it as a novel. As for her short stories, she has not yet accumulated enough for a cohesive collection, but continues to write them while she works on her current project.
“Give me five years and I may or may not have another book in the world.”