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Lauren Groff’s “Arcadia” is so immersed in the life of a hippie commune that patchouli ought to waft off its pages. It’s a novel of the 1960s and ’70s in which acid is dropped, groats are served, “Froggie Went A Courtin’ ” is sung, a cult leader is worshiped and somebody literally hugs a tree. An outhouse at Arcadia smells like wet muskrat. Children are reared in a Kid Herd. This does not sound like everyone’s cup of rose-hip tea.
So the transporting magic of “Arcadia” comes as a surprise. Ms. Groff has taken a quaint, easily caricatured community and given it true universality, not just the knee-jerk kind that Arcadian platitudes espoused. Even more unexpectedly, she has expanded this period piece so that it stretches from 1965 to 2018, coaxing forth a remarkable amount of suspense from the way her characters change over time. And a book that might have been small, dated and insular winds up feeling timeless and vast.