I recently read two novels that were seemingly unrelated but that actually both had settings inspired by a similar location – Arcadia. Arcadia was a region of Ancient Greece that has been idealized in literature as a harmonious and unspoiled idyll. The first book, “Arcadia,” by Lauren Groff, takes place partly in the namesake commune. The second book, “A Once Crowded Sky,” by Tom King, is set in the fictional Arcadia City. Both books deal with the aftermath of return to normality after exceptional experiences.
“Arcadia” is the story of Bit Stone, told in four sections as Bit moves from a 5 year-old living in a commune to a single father in a plague-filled world. My only involvement with communal living was my freshman year residence in the college dormitory, and it did not make me eager to repeat the experience. Groff doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of communal living, but she does make the reader understand the appeal of it. Bit grows up in a world of togetherness and openness, and that makes it difficult for him to adjust to the outside world as an adult. The book is lovely and sad.
Superheroes give up their powers to save the world in “A Once Crowded Sky.” It is a novel about comic books, and King adopts comic techniques, including script and actual comic panels. The stories are divided into issues instead of strictly into chapters. Sometimes moving among techniques and characters was disorienting, but I think that is the author’s intention. The reader feels lost just as the characters feel lost.