Article published on May 5, 2012.
It is the 1970 and a group of idealists, lead by Handy, a charismatic musician, establish a commune near an old and dilapidated house called Arcadia. Here they want to create their ideal community free from commercialism and violence. Ridley Sorrel Stone is born to Hannah and Abe, two of the original Arcadians. Since he is a tiny baby he is called (little) Bit, a name that sticks and will be with him for life. Bit grows up in Arcadia and flourishes in the close-knit community where he knows everybody, is close to nature and feels safe. For 14 years he has no contact with the outside world, a place that scares him, and watches as Arcadia grows, flourishes and then falls victim to its own success, growing too big with too many people who have their own ideas of how the commune should operate. Just before Bit’s paradise falls apart Bit discovers his love for Helle, the troubled girl he grew up with who now takes over his thoughts. A girl he finds himself loving and loathing at much the same time.
It is one night of out of control partying when Bit is 14 that ends with the police raiding the commune and ending Bit’s life in the only place he has ever known. One night the consequences of which force him and his parents out into the big world Bit is not sure he is ready to face, away from the people he grew up with, knows and loves. Thirty years later Bit still doesn’t feel at home in the world he now finds himself living him and his obsession with Helle stays as strong as always now that there are new ties that bind him to her although she is as vulnerable and self-destructive as always. The question is if Bit will ever realise that he can’t recreate the past or live there? Will he ever grow up enough to give the rest of his life a real chance or will his idealised past continue to hold him under its spell?
This is a story told in parts, with huge jumps in between. While the missing years are mentioned as memories, the narrative concentrates on the pivotal moments in Bit’s life. While this makes sense because the book would have been way too long if all of the 50 or so years covered in this book were described in equal detail, there are some times I would have loved to hear more about. I especially longed to hear more about the culture shock Bit must have experienced when he went from living in the commune to living in New York City, although it is clear from the story that it is a transition he never successfully made.
I guess this is a story about growing up, and how for some people that process doesn’t end until they reach middle age, or maybe even a process that goes on for as long as we live. The story takes us from the 1970’s to the near future, and the picture painted of that future is not a pretty one, although one that sounds scarily realistic. It is fitting that Bit should grow up to become a photographer as some of the descriptions in this book provide clear word portraits of people and places, so clear that the reader can see them with ease.
This is a beautifully written book. The language is almost lyrical, full of hidden depth and meaning. This makes it a book that can’t be read quickly. There is so much detail, so much attention for feelings and descriptions of places that it forces the reader to take their time and allow for the slow absorption of all those images. It is a satisfying read though because Bit is a very interesting protagonist to follow along. He is a character I found myself getting completely invested in, hoping that he would find his place in the real world and come out if not on top then at least in charge of his own life.
Sometimes you have to let time carry you past your troubles.
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