Saturday, August 6, 2011

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

This book was courtesy of the local library. I selected it by playing the "shelf game" where I pick a random shelf of books and grab whatever looks good to me on it.
When recently widowed Meg Rosenthal brings her daughter to the Arcadia boarding school for the arts it feels like stepping into a fairy tale, a fairy tale that brings the fears of nightmares to the surface. In fact, Meg's favorite story growing up, The Changeling Girl was written by the school's founders, Lily and Vera.
Meg's financial difficulties and relationship with her teenage daughter Sally move her to take the post at the school, but they don't signal an end to her problems. During the First Night celebration a student dies in a way the mimics the death of Lily 60 years before. Meg is soon untangling the past to better understand the tragedy of the present.

Goodman has deeply steeped her story in symbolism and myth. She plays with a circular sense of justice and connection that, though initially proves satisfying, feels redundant and improbably by the end of the book. The first seven eighths of the book are enjoyable and engaging, you unravel the mystery along with Meg and feel the atmosphere of the woods and her crumbling cottage.
One also feels invested in Sally's development and the relationship between mother and daughter. Indeed, this story continually comes back to the legacy a mother leaves for her child and the relationships between women. The characters of Sally's school friends sometimes come across as cardboard cut-outs, with the exception of Chloe, who also grows as the story continues. Goodman also strives add realism to her teenage characters by pop-culture references which come across as startling, especially when compared to the ethereal sense of timelessness she cultivates through the rest of the book.
Arcadia Falls is a suspenseful story about the lives of women, about love and sacrifice. It combines mystery with family drama, history, and even a little romance. It is a decent read for a sticky summer afternoon or a long trip, but the ending still annoys me. Unfortunately, though there are many things to like about this book, it is uneven.

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