Meg Rosenthal and her teenage daughter, Sally, are forced to abandon their upper middle class lifestyle when Jude, Meg’s husband, drops dead. Meg is a storyteller and artist who gave up her budding career when she became pregnant. Now, 16 years later, she is working toward a PhD in English specializing in fairy tales and folklore. The only job she can find is at a small isolated arts school in Arcadia Falls, New York. The two divest themselves of most of their belongings and move into a cottage on the school grounds. This is how Carol Goodman opens her seventh novel, ARCADIA FALLS.
Originally the school was an artists’ colony, and when that fell apart, founders Lily Eberhardt and Vera Beecher transformed the place into an arts school. They wrote and illustrated a complicated children’s book about a changeling child and lost children. It was Sally’s favorite, and she recognizes the gnome-like trees as they approach their new home.
The landscape around Arcadia is populated with lush ground cover and a large variety of trees, all of which play a significant role in the story. Sally is very unhappy at first. She has looked up the history of the town and learned that it was “founded by a group of witches who were thrown out of [a] Dutch Settlement.” But, explains Meg, that was a rumor about the town, not about the school, which was created by artists, poets and writers.
The students are into magical rituals and spiritual images, and take very seriously the pagan rituals that celebrate the changing of the seasons. The fall celebration is the first event planned for this school year. Unfortunately, Isabel Cheney, one of the goddesses, ends up dead. Was it an accident or murder?
The manner of Isabel’s demise is reminiscent of that of one of the school’s founders, Lily Eberhardt, 60 years ago. That death occurred in the middle of a blizzard and has always been assumed to be an accident. But people still remember and some don’t buy the accident report. Now a new generation of students is researching the history of the school, including Lily’s tragic mysterious death. Slowly, secrets that have been buried for years are beginning to emerge. Is a murderer still stalking the students and faculty?
True to form, Carol Goodman is a master of imagery and setting. Her characters are so real that readers can almost touch them. Her knowledge of fairy tales, myth, folklore and arcane rituals is quite formidable, bringing verisimilitude to her tales. She is the kind of writer who can weave several sub-plots into a cohesive and suspenseful tapestry, while at the same time moving back and forth in time. Part gothic novel and part mystery story, ARCADIA FALLS will not disappoint fans and should attract new readers as well.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 22, 2010