This one coincidentally ended up at the top of my to-read list at the same time as Arcadia, both set in special communities in upstate New York. Lauren Groff's Arcadia is a hippie commune founded in the early 1970s. Goodman's is an artists' retreat begun in the 1920s, turned into an art-focused boarding school in the 1940s.
"These women met at an art school in New York and decided they could pursue careers as artists better if they didn't marry. One of them, Vera Beecher, offered her family estate. Then a bunch of other artists joined them--"
"Like a hippie commune?" Sally asks.
"Sort of, only this was in the late twenties and early thirties, way before hippies. They called themselves bohemians or socialists. It was even before beatniks--"
"I know, Mom, like Audrey Hepburn in those Gap ads."
"Yes, well, anyway they called it Arcadia--after the town, of course, but also because Arcadia was a place in Greece where life was supposed to be perfect."
This novel is billed as being a "fast-moving gothic story," which seems like a contradiction in terms, but it really isn't either of those. While Goodman tries to create a dark, haunting setting, neither the horror nor romance of true gothic literature actually emerge.
The narrator/protagonist, Meg Rosenthal, is recently widowed, financially strapped, and dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter. Oh, and she's working on her doctoral thesis on one particular fairytale written and illustrated by the two women who founded Arcadia. Oh so conveniently, a teaching position opens up at Arcadia...in her field...with free housing in a the cabin one of the women (Lily) lived in before...wait for it...her tragic death 60 years ago. And, of course, the day that Meg and her daughter arrive, one of the students (Isabel) falls to her death in the exact same place where the Lily died.
Looking through the list of Goodman's other novels, it seems that she writes the same basic story over and over: academic middle-aged women, tragic deaths/murders just before a shocking dark secret can be revealed, etc., etc. She's also written several supernatural stories under the pseudonym Juliet Dark. Oh, my. So I probably won't be reading any other books by this author, but she's not a bad writer stylistically. I would have given Goodman at least 3 stars if I was only considering the writing, but the plotting...oh, the plotting...
Isabel dies and NOTHING happens. There's no mention of her parents or any type of investigation, other than the local sheriff poking his nose around a tiny bit. Life just goes on.
Meg finds Lily's journal (which isn't even really a journal as the 20 or more years it covers were apparently written in a very short period of time),but then takes her good, sweet time reading it. As in, she waits WEEKS between reading the first section and the second. Really? It's not like she has anything better to do, considering she mopes about how lonely she is. And then, she supposedly stays up all night reading a section that took me maybe 30 minutes to read.
The romance didn't even make sense. Meg and the local sheriff, Callum Reade, barely know each other and seemingly can't stand each other. For Callum this actually makes sense, because every time he sees Meg she's acting like a crazy woman. Romance is not my genre, but I didn't buy this. At all.
There are also little nitpicky things that just got under my skin:
She refers to a woman as middle-aged, when that woman was probably in her early teens 60 years ago. Seventies is not middle-aged by any stretch of the imagination.
She says Meg's parents were older when they had Meg, but then she refers to Meg's in-laws remembering the Depression and indicates they are the same age as Meg's grandparents. That doesn't add up for me.
And the ending is just a huge mess.