Tripping Arcadia is both lush and brilliantly written. A debut novel that I devoured in two sittings; full of complex characters, surprising twists and a completely unique story that mirrors The Great Gatsby but transcends with bisexual characters, botany, and pure evil. It hooked me from the first sentence.
The reader follows Helena (Lena) Gereghty,who has gone to Italy after dropping out of med school. She has been working with her aunt, a world-renowned medieval botanist, when she is summoned back to the US to support her family after her father has lost his job. Lena lands a position quickly as the medical assistant to a resident doctor for the Verdeau family, a well-known wealthy clan, who owns a tech company. The doctor is in charge of the ailing heir to the fortune, though her position is vague, as is the heir’s diagnosis.
They pulled Lena into a world the opposite of her blue collar upbringing; wild parties, drugs, sin, alcohol and debauchery. Jonathan’s illness remains vague though Lena is expected to dispense treatment of noxious black pills every day, which make him sicker. After a few weeks as an employee in the Verdeau home, Lena is given the added responsibility of caring for the family and their friends at their wild parties in the Berkshires. She quickly learns that this means making sure the cops don’t come to the house or she doesn’t get paid. When she navigates the first party, which means taking care of those who have taken too many drugs or drank too much, she is paid handsomely. As she grows closer to both Jonathan and his sister Audrey, she uses her background of botany to find out what is making Jonathan so sick. But when she discovers that Martin Verdeau is to blame for her father losing his job, she comes up with an entirely different plan. One that includes revenge and poison.
I have never read a book like this before. It is at once dark, deep, and opulent. As you see Lena falling for Audrey, you can’t help but worry for her, as you never know who in the Verdeau family is to be trusted. We can compare Jonathan to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye as a sensitive young man who just wants to want and be wanted. The ending is surprising with a twist I did not see coming. It is almost impossible to believe that this is Kit Mayquist’s debut novel. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.