Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
Ballantine Books, 2010
"There once was a girl who liked to pretend she was lost until the day she really lost her way."
This book is a little bit women's fiction, a little bit historical fiction, a little bit horror, a little bit mystery... I honestly don't know how to categorize it. One thing that is clear, however, is that it mesmerized me from the first word to the last. I only put it down when I had no other choice. If possible, I would have read it all in one sitting, in one night.
The story is actually two stories interconnected by yet a third story, a tale of folklore called The Changeling (quoted above). We follow the lives of literature teacher Meg Rosenthal and her teenage daughter Sally in the present day, and the lives of artists Lily Eberhardt and her lesbian companion Vera Beecher in the past. The latter is told through the pages of Lily's journal as Meg reads it. All three stories are part of a gripping drama that focuses on a singular theme: the sacrifices of motherhood.
Goodman's clever presentation and beautiful prose had me reading into the wee hours of the morning, and sometimes afraid of what might be lurking in the dark room around the corner. It reminded me of stories I used to read when I was young, the kind that I read to purposely scare myself, that I was afraid to continue reading but at the same time I couldn't put down. But it also contains elements I would have never understood as a child. It is a story of love lost and found, of heartache, of deceit, of deaths both intentional and accidental, of painful sacrifice and tough choices.
The only thing I can fault is that everyone who dies (except for Meg's husband who had died before the start of the story) does so in the same manner. And the threat of that type of death was constant, to more than one character, so by midway through the story it had become stale. This lessened some of the intended impact at the end, in my opinion. Also, true to "mystery style" there was quite a bit of explanation of motives and revealing of clues all thrown out at the end, which left me a bit dazed. It was the only part of the book I had to reread.
Even so, I still highly recommend this book. The characters, setting, and plot all work together seamlessly to make this one of my favorite reads so far this year. It is the first work of Goodman's that I've had the pleasure of reading, and I will certainly be adding more of her novels to my reading pile.