Title: Arcadia Falls
Author: Carol Goodman
Publisher: Ballantine Books (2010)
Book Source: Free Advance Reader Edition from Publisher
Meg Rosenthal is a recent widow who has been left with nothing. In order to support herself and her teenage daughter, Sally, she takes a teaching job at an art focused boarding school in upstate New York. It was originally an artists commune that was eventually turned into a school, so it is quite an eccentric environment that this emotionally fragile mother/daughter move to. In this hauntingly beautiful rural setting, Meg and Sally discover the secrets that inspired the fairy tales written by the schools founder and her partner. When the secrets come to light, the dark past begins to reach into the present. It is no longer just fairy tales and biographical stories when one of the students dies under mysterious circumstances.
The past and the present are closely intertwined at Arcadia Falls and the rituals enacted by the students combined with the isolated setting give the book a surreal atmosphere. Carol Goodman's portrayal of the historical characters - the ladies who founded the school and grappled with the complications of their personal and professional lives - had more depth than the modern characters. In the early part of Arcadia Falls, the fairy tales were explored in their original setting. This element is quite fascinating but it fizzled out after Meg turned her attention to a journal that she discovers.
Arcadia Falls has too many coincidences and unrealistic events for me to be able to enjoy it. It feels like Goodman had trouble fitting everything together smoothly and had to force too much into place. The number of times that the local Sheriff happens to save Meg from falling off a cliff in the woods is near ridiculous. The complete lack of any serious investigation when a student is found dead (in the present day sequence) is very unrealistic. I found myself wondering if it was a Young Adult novel because everything is spelled out and explained for the reader along the way and a lot of the events were quite predictable. I was disappointed with Arcadia Falls because there was a lot of potential for an intriguing story here, but it turned out to be an irritating one.
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