Carol Goodman is known for her gothic, fictional portraits of academia. Her latest release, Arcadia Falls, is no exception. The novel begins as Meg Rosenthal and her daughter Sally travel from their over-sized, suburban home in Great Neck, New York, to the small upstate town of Arcadia. Meg lost her husband Jude last year, and neither she nor Sally has yet dealt with their grief. The two move so that Meg can take a teaching job at a private fine arts boarding school just outside of town called Arcadia Falls. Meg has been working on her doctoral thesis, which examines the literature and artwork of the school's founders, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt. Vera and Lily wrote and illustrated now-out-of-print children's books, particularly fairy tales --the primary focus of Meg's research.
The mother-daughter pair enters the grounds of Arcadia Falls with an already strained relationship; Sally spends most of her time with ear buds inserted and iPod on. Their move from suburban mall-topia to middle-of-nowhere upstate New York does little to mend their bond. Meg hopes she and Sally can find some common ground, and that Sally will renew her interest in drawing. Sally soon takes up with a small circle of friends at the school, but rather than bringing her closer to her mother, it seems to have the opposite affect. She requests a move into a free spot in the dorms with her friends, and Meg feels unable to deny her this opportunity to fit in.
Soon after the Rosenthals move to Arcadia, Meg begins to sense something sinister shrouding the school grounds. Goodman employs descriptive writing to effectively create an atmosphere that is rich with foreboding. As the novel progresses, the reader has an increasingly heightened sense of suspense. While the novel illustrates many traits of an old-fashioned thriller/ mystery, Goodman includes a great deal of art- and literature-related references that push Arcadia Falls to a higher level than most books in the mystery genre. What results is an intelligently written, sufficiently creepy novel with plot twists and turns that keep the reader guessing how things will be resolved.
Another effective method Goodman uses in Arcadia Falls is the novel-within-a-novel technique. She includes within the text a private journal of Lily Eberhardt's in its entirety, as well as one of the fairy tales Lily and Vera Beecher published. Both the journal entries and the story "The Changeling" provide subplots, but also add to the larger story. Meg's research requires her to find any and all resources of information about the two artists, but their story becomes intertwined with the current residents of Arcadia Falls, as well. "The Changeling" not only provides clues about the school and founders' history, but is also presented within the novel as a beloved family fairy tale for Meg as a young girl, and later for Sally.
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