Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Meg Rosenthal and her daughter Sally have sold their home to move Arcadia Falls where Meg has obtained a teaching position at the town’s boarding school of the arts.  It’s a hard time for both as they try to adjust to life in the absence of Meg’s husband, and Sally’s father, Jude.  Sally is angry and withdrawn, and Meg struggles to do the right thing by her daughter as they adjust to their new life in reduced circumstances.

Though the dean of the school, the enigmatic Ivy St. Clare, had promised comfortable lodgings, the cabin that they are assigned is old and in disrepair.  It also harbors secrets that could prove dangerous to both Meg and her daughter Sally.  Then a young student dies tragically at a school sponsored pagan festival, leaving Meg to wonder if it’s somehow related to The Changeling fairytale and the  myth of the White Witch, and more importantly if she should just take her daughter and run.

I so enjoy reading Carol Goodman’s novels. Being a big fan of fairytales,  mythology, and stories within other stories, I am never disappointed by that aspect of her work.  I wasn’t disappointed this time around either.  She has crafted another intriguing novel that makes use of myth and fairytale to reach out and grab hold over everyone at Arcadia; Meg and her daughter, the students at the schools, the local sheriff, Callum Reade, on whom Meg might have a little crush, and also the reader!

I had compassion for Meg trying to raise a moody and resentful teenager, while teaching, rediscovering the art she’d abandoned when she had a child, and her anger at her husband for leaving her in the situation that he did. There were plenty of times when I wanted her to be stronger with her daughter, and as a character she is often upstaged by the school’s wealthy founder Vera and her talented companion Lily, whom she comes to know through letters and diaries that she explores while completing  the thesis that has too long gone unfinished.

Lily and Vera started the school first as a summer retreat, and mainly as a place where women could help each other nurture their talents and art without the distractions of men. Vera champions the notion that women’s art suffers when they become nurturers of their husband careers and talents.  In addition to that, having a child completely destroys a woman’ career as an artist. One of the major themes of the novel is the high cost that women have to pay in order to be creative people, and several characters explore how to balance the roles necessary to create fulfilling lives to mixed and sometimes disastrous results.

I love sinking into Goodman’s rich prose, and felt transported into her fairytales and to the school that she has created in the haunted environs of Upstate New York. In the past I have found that some of her work ended too abruptly and was a little rushed, but the timing of the events throughout this novel left me feeling satisfied throughout.


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