Goodman’s latest melding of faux folklore and neo-gothic melodrama (The Night Villa, 2008, etc.).
When Meg Rosenthal is offered a teaching position and free tuition for daughter Sally at a bucolic boarding school in the Catskills, she can hardly refuse. She’s been exiled from Long Island by hedgie husband Jude’s recent business collapse, followed shortly by his sudden death of a heart attack. Originally an artists’ colony founded in the late 1920s by lesbian couple Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, the Arcadia School is an ideal venue for Meg’s academic specialty, fairy tales. Indeed, its grounds ominously recall the setting of her favorite fable, “The Changeling Girl,” which Lily wrote and illustrated. During Arcadia’s annual fall pagan festival, a student, Isabel, falls off a cliff on the edge of campus. Years before, Lily fell to her death from the same cliff, much to Vera’s everlasting grief and chagrin, especially since she believed Lily had forsaken her for society painter Virgil Nash. Called in to investigate Isabel’s death, broodingly handsome local sheriff Callum Reade meets Meg, kindling sparks of incipient romance. At Vera and Lily’s former residence, Fleur-de-Lis, Meg discovers Lily’s lost diary, which reveals that Virgil impregnated her during an intemperate fling. Fearing Vera’s wrath, Lily accepted a commission to paint a mural for a convent, St. Lucy’s, which sheltered unwed mothers and orphans. Sixteen years later, having told neither Vera nor Virgil that she gave birth, Lily retrieved her daughter, Ivy St. Clare, from St. Lucy’s orphanage and brought the girl to Arcadia as her “protégée.” So that explains why now-ancient Ivy is the school’s dean, but not why she is so tightly wound and always skulking around spying on people. Given the early introduction of a convenient cliff and a changeling motif, one can expect many cliffhangers and switched babies, and in this Goodman does not disappoint. The denouement, however, will leave many readers baffled.
Passably engaging, principally for its meditations on the ever-shifting challenges facing women artists.