I was eager to read Arcadia Falls for a few reasons: I was looking for a good mystery; I was in the mood for some good literary fiction, and I have enjoyed all of Carol Goodman's previous novels (except one that I've yet to read!). Saying that I wasn't disappointed would be a gross understatement.
From her first novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, Carol Goodman hooked me with her prose. The only word I can find to describe it is haunting. The reader carries her beautifully composed words and imagery from page to page, chapter to chapter, book to book, and beyond. Arcadia Falls is no exception. Like most of Goodman's novels, this one takes place in rural upstate New York, where the author has some roots of her own. Having owned a home in Saratoga for almost eight years now, I'll admit that I was a reluctant transplant to the area. I had images in my mind of depressing winter scenes with entirely too much snow and grey sky. But Ms. Goodman's books promised and delivered a very different New York State. She infuses beauty and mystery into all of her settings and the reader is seduced and intrigued as much by them as by the characters and plotlines of her stories.
After the unexpected death of her husband, Meg Rosenthal uproots herself and her teenage daughter from their Long Island home with her daughter to the novel's eponymous town after accepting a position teaching folklore at the Arcadia School. Founded as an artist's colony the school maintains its dedication to arts and letters and traditions of the past. It is during one of the school's traditional celebrations, the First Night bonfire, that one of the school's top student falls to her death. Eerily, the tragic death mirrors the long-ago discovery of Lily Eberhart, one of the school's founders.
During the following months two investigations merge: the police investigation into the student death and Meg's research into the history of the school and, in particular, of its founders. The school has its secrets it seems, and while avoiding the all-too watchful eyes of Dean Ivy St. Claire, Meg will uncover them. In doing so, the truth about the women founders and the realities of the lives and choices of women in every generation are brought to light. In discovering the truth of the past she discovers remarkable truths about herself and her daughter.
It was no surprise to me that I would enjoy this book. What I find myself drawn to about Ms. Goodman's work is her distinct way of paralleling the lives of her characters to the regional history, art, and literature. Arcadia Falls is no exception. Her deft prose weaves the meta-story carefully throughout the novel and the result is a resolution that is satisfying and relatable.
If you've not read Arcadia Falls, I hope you are inspired to do so. If you have read it, please share your thoughts and comments!
The Head and Not the Heart by Natalie Keller Reinert