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Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Arcadia Falls is the latest release from Carol Goodman.  I've read all of her books, sometimes for better or for worse.  This is one of her better ones.  In previous novels the resolution of the present day mystery sometimes came out of left field because more time was spent developing the historical mystery to the neglect of the present day mystery.  This was not the case with Arcadia Falls in which the sixty year old historical mystery is so intertwined with the present day mystery that solving the historical mystery is prerequisite to understanding the present day mystery.  Granted the twist at the end is highly improbable, but it still gives the reader a good feeling because ultimately everyone turns out to be where it is that they belong.

This book has similarities in superficial details of the narrator's life and setting with Goodman's first novel, The Lake of Dead Languages.  Meg, the narrator, flees the city to the rural New York campus of an eccentric, arts based private school steeped in pagan lore and the traditions of its founders who were the original inhabitants of the arts colony from which the school was born.  Meg and her moody teenage daughter Sally are still mourning the loss of husband and father respectively after his sudden death a year ago.  Left in dire financial debt by her husband, Meg is forced to sell off most of their possessions and their house to pay the bills; she's also forced to take a job as an English teacher at a rural, exclusive private school.  The position is perfect for her because it also offers housing for her and her daughter, and it was founded in the 1930's by two female artists, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, whose folklore collections are the subject of Meg's doctoral thesis.

Soon after Meg and Sally's arrival on campus the school holds its fall, pagan flavored festival to kick off the school year.  When one of the female students is discovered to be missing and then later found dead close to the spot where Lily Eberhardt fell to her death the entire student body is shaken.  As the school year progresses and Meg dives back into her research the story of the school's founding women emerges from a long lost journal uncovered one night by Meg.  The events of the past parallel current events on campus, and it becomes clear those long past events' ripples continue to capsize those in their wake today.  While Meg struggles to piece together what happened that long ago winter night when Lily died, she copes with the ever widening emotional distance between herself and her daughter.

Astute readers will piece together and guess the implications and outcomes of this story in which jealousy and tensions between mothers and daughters plays a central, disturbing theme.  But don't think once you've guessed the solution to the mystery that the story's done because it still has a few twists to throw out before the close of the novel.  This is a must read for Goodman fans and those who enjoy folklore and fairy tales.  I recommend you check out this book the next time you're in the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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