Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Book: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Arcadia Falls

Stumbled across this book review, Past is present: Novel explores how choices can shape lives by Erica Blake for Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman and thought the book might interest readers here.  I'd missed this one, but I miss so many, don't I?

Meg’s desire to start again leads her to Arcadia, a private boarding school in upstate New York for students of the arts, and the source of inspiration for one of Meg’s favorite fairy tales. A specialist in, and now teacher of, fairy tales in women’s fiction, Meg is immediately intrigued by her new surroundings and the tales that were born there. She is now able to pursue an artist’s life, a dream that had been derailed by the news of her unexpected pregnancy 16 years earlier.

But despite its promise of a new beginning, Arcadia has too much of a past for Meg and Sally not to be affected. What starts with the death of a student within the opening pages follows a story that Meg attempts to unravel, which shows that although “Arcadia was a place in Greece where life was supposed to be perfect,” it’s not so perfect after all. Instead, like the fairy tales that she’s studying, Meg discovers that the school has a dark, troubled past.

Among the intrigue of the novel is Goodman’s ability to entwine the past, the present, and even the fantastical. Told in the first-person, Meg is able to recount the history of the school’s founders through a recently discovered journal. She also shares her own feelings about motherhood and the choices she has made, which differ greatly in practice but not emotion from the story she finds in the pages of the diary left by Lily Eberhardt, who met her own death on the isolated campus years earlier.

Of course, I went looking for the title on Amazon and found an exclusive interview with the author there, too. Here's an excerpt:

Carol Goodman on Arcadia Falls: The Red Rose Girls and the Three A.M. Demons

There were two threads that went into the origin of Arcadia Falls. One rather academic and intellectual, one deeply personal.

The first came from an exhibit I saw at the Norman Rockwell Museum in the fall of 2003. The exhibit featured three women artists: Jessie Wilcox Smith, Violet Oakley, and Elizabeth Shippen Green. The women had met at the turn of the 19th century in a class at Drexel University taught by Howard Pyle. Pyle encouraged the three women to throw in their lot together because, he said, "Once a woman marries, that's the end of her." When they moved into an old inn called The Red Rose, Pyle began to call them the Red Rose Girls.

The exhibit was inspiring for its luminous illustrations and paintings--many of which I recognized from the pictures I'd hung on my daughter's nursery walls--but also for its story. These three women had found a way to be artists in an era that prohibited women from taking life drawing classes because it was considered to make them unfit for their true vocations as wives. Although the partnership eventually broke up when Eilizabeth Shippen Green married, Violet Oakley and Jessie Wilcox Smith went on to work as artists for the rest of their lives.

Implanted in my mind was the germ of an idea for a novel about a group of women artists who band together to pursue their art outside of the confines of marriage, which would have to be a historical piece because, after all, women could have families and pursue artistic careers in the present. Right?

At some point in the story's development, while I wrote other novels and my daughter grew up, I realized that I wanted to juxtapose a modern story against the historical one. The character of Meg Rosenthal, traveling upstate with her teenaged daughter Sally, emerged, according to my notebooks, in 2007, and it came out of a very visceral fear. Specifically that kind of fear that wakes you up at three in the morning and then keeps you awake, alone in the dark, spinning out worst-case scenarios until dawn. My yoga teacher told me once that there's a tradition in Vedic mythology that 3 a.m. is when you're most vulnerable to demons. When my daughter was little those demons gave me nightmares about losing her in crowded department stores. When she grew into a teenager I’d wake in the middle of the night with images of car wrecks and drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies and depression. There are ways you can lose a child who's sitting right in front of you. In fact, you are losing them, little by little, to adulthood. The child you knew is slowly vanishing, hopefully to become an adult you recognize.

I suppose it was these fears that made me think about the changeling story. Of all fairy tales it's perhaps the most horrifying to a parent--the idea that your child could be snatched away from you and replaced by a wooden (in some of the stories the replacement is actually made of wood), unfeeling creature that looks like your child but isn't.

The changeling story is about infants, but it occurred to me during one of my 3 a.m. bouts that it could describe the experience of raising a teenager. What parent of a teenager hasn't felt at some moment that the sweet child who doted on your every word has been replaced by a touchy, moody, eye-rolling teenager?

The Red Rose Girls : An Uncommon Story of Art and Love

Now really, that just fits into this blog again, considering I've recommended The Red Rose Girls in the past.

The professional reviews are overall praiseworthy, too, so if this is in your areas of interest, you might look it up.  Changelings, fairy tales, women and other inspirations, all rolled up into one package.


  1. I just got "Arcadia Falls" from the library and am looking forward to it. I've really enjoyed Carol Goodman's other books, especially "The Seduction of Water" which touches on the Six Swans tale.

  2. I read this book awhile back through an Early Review and it was the impotence that drove me to seek out more fairy tales. There were a few moments where I wasn't terribly pleased with where the author was taking the story, but overall, a huge **wow**. If you get a chance I would definitely read.