Monday, May 10, 2010
Meg Rosenthal has just moved to upstate New York, finding work as a teacher at Arcadia Falls, a private high school that focuses on the arts. She brings along her troubled daughter Sally, who will also be attending the school. Meg and Sally have had a rough time of it in the last few months, as Meg's husband and Sally's father Jude has just unexpectedly passed away, leaving the family in serious debt. Meg, unable to cope with her daughter's new rebelliousness and the financial pressures bearing down on her, decides that life at Arcadia Falls is just the thing that she and Sally need to start over. Meg also hopes to be able to gather information for her thesis on the school's co-founders and their mysterious shared history. But life on the campus gets off to an unnerving start after the body of one of the students is found at the bottom of a ravine the night after a school celebration. As Meg becomes embroiled in the secrets of the students and faculty of Arcadia Falls, she also discovers the hidden diary of one of the co-founders and comes away with more questions than answers. Meanwhile, the emotional distance between Meg and Sally grows, and Meg fears for her daughter in light of the new circumstances of the school. As layer after layer of the school's past and present intertwine, bizarre and frightening facts begin to come to light, bringing Meg to the forefront of a very dangerous situation. A deeply atmospheric work of Gothic fiction, Arcadia Falls keeps the reader guessing until the final page is turned.
As I mentioned briefly in my summary, this book had a great atmospheric feel and an ambiance that extrapolated an incredible amount of surging darkness and mystery from the narrative. In some ways, the story was reminiscent of Possession by A.S. Byatt, for both books dealt with academia and the exploration of the past in relation to the present. I thought that the book had a really nice Gothic feel to it and at times it was both evocative and provocative. The author surely didn't shy away from touchy subjects and tackled the topics of both homosexuality and alternative religion in the tale with a clear and no nonsense attitude which imbued the story with a very modern and candid feel. One of the interesting things about this story was the fact that it did feel so modern and fresh when there were obviously some components of a historical drama wrapped within the narrative. I felt that part of this feeling was derived from the ability of the author to move back and forth between the present and the past with little to no awkwardness and fumbling, which gave the two parts of the narrative a great feeling of cohesion.
There were really several layers of storytelling going on in this book. At first, the reader is only privy to what is going on in the present, but as the story moves forward, other aspects of the past begin to be introduced and the tale begins to alternate between these two halves. In addition, a third story is thrown into the mix for a brief time which gives the narrative a great relevance and heft and genuinely ties both of the other stories together wonderfully. The writing style that Goodman uses throughout the book is one that is curiously inviting and warm, which sharply juxtaposes the story she tells. The writing really pulls the reader in, and this, in conjunction with the depth and resonance of the story, gives the tale a tremendous feeling of life and impact. There are elements of a ghost story combined with a mystery, all working within the framework of an academic novel in this book, giving it a well-rounded and full feeling to the plot.
I also liked the characters in this novel. Most of them were really complicated people whose motivations were hidden throughout the majority of the story. It was interesting to see the ways in which the characters changed as more and more was revealed about them. There were a few times that I had a character pegged as one thing, only to discover that they were really very different once the veils hiding them had been stripped away. It felt like a very complex maneuver for the author to attempt, making all of her characters so malleable and ever-changing and I felt that Goodman did it with a great deal of success. The characters in this book were not overblown at all and felt very genuine. In this type of novel it's easy for the characters to become parodies of themselves and for them to have a feel of phoniness about them, which, I am happy to say, the author avoided.
The one niggle I had with the book was the feeling that the ending was too well-rounded. I felt that towards the end, the book got a little over ambitious and everything was tied up too nicely and a bit quickly. The reason this bothered me was because most of the book had managed to feel very sprawling and developed, whereas the end felt a bit formula and tame. The last section of the book felt a little tacked on and didn't have the same emotional feel or depth as compared to the rest. I didn't like the feeling that all the loose ends had been dealt with in such a brusque way and felt that the story could have left some things to the reader's imagination and still managed to sate the appetite.
This is the first book that I have read by Carol Goodman but I have read many favorable reviews of her work and think that based on what this book offered to me as a reader, that I will be searching for other books by this author. If you are the type of reader who enjoys a lot of meat in your fiction, both in its plot and its character development, then this would be the perfect book for you. I would also recommend this book to those who enjoy well-developed mysteries and those who enjoy books about academia. The tension and intricacy of the storylines will have you involved very quickly and keep you invested throughout. A very finely crafted tale; Recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM