Dreams of Arcadia is the story of Nate Holub, a Houston veterinarian with two teenage daughters. When Nate is offered a job in his late father’s hometown, he accepts, but he wonders if a city boy has what it takes to be a country vet. As he struggles to adjust, he reconnects with his family and learns that his father’s accidental death thirty years earlier was much more complicated than he realized. Nate probes the past, afraid of what he might find. He encounters a resentful cousin, a wary town patriarch, a reclusive uncle, a beguiling hidden garden, and a mysterious illness. He is drawn to the Holub family farm, where he seeks refuge in nature and tries desperately to reach Viola, his inscrutable grandmother. The farm is a place that haunts his memory, a place where dark family secrets dwell. Dreams of Arcadia explores the enduring ties that hold a family together and bind a family to the land. It is a plot-driven mystery story, but it could also be viewed as an allegory for our ultimate reliance on the natural world, for the healing power of nature. The setting is a culturally distinct region of Texas settled by Czech and German immigrants, not the Texas of popular imagination.
Porter, a veterinarian himself, proves a thoroughly engaging writer, and right off the bat he builds an immersive world for readers. His vivid descriptions of people, animals, and life in the country bring the setting to life, bolstered by the gripping plot and arresting characters whose personalities and interpersonal dynamics are both convincing and surprising, like actual people. Porter’s experience as a veterinary pathologist is evident throughout, particularly in his skill at crafting scenes involving animals, sometimes eager and sometimes in anguish, and Holub’s careful treatment of them, with welcome insights into the reasons for his approach as he deworms, administers vaccines, delivers C-sections, and faces emergencies.
At times it can be hard to track the various cousins, aunts, and uncles pervading the narrative, but these interweaving connections have a point: they’re meant to throw Holub, and readers alongside him, into a sticky past that turns out to be more sprawling and complex than he anticipated. The narrative is rich with nostalgic reveries and flashbacks that strengthen the presence and impact of the past, and Porter’s skill at eventually melding the different perspectives, time periods, and revelations together delivers a well-rounded story that will resonate with lovers of family dramas and thoughtful mysteries.
Takeaway: The touching, accomplished story of a veterinarian and a small-town mystery.
Comparable Titles: Nick Trout’s The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, John Grisham’s A Painted House.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B
“Readers who want to get closer to the psyche, history, and currents of the American family should take a hard look at the novel Dreams of Arcadia. It embraces these facets and more…a compelling read.”
"With beautiful prose, Brian Porter vividly evokes a place and way of life that will mesmerize the reader with its heartfelt authenticity and humanity. The world of a city veterinarian drawn back to his roots in the Texas countryside, both to find himself and to unravel a family mystery, is consistently fascinating and engaging. This is an immersive read you will not be able to put down."
“Porter gives us a multi-generational saga, poignant and gritty, set in a beautifully described landscape. The story is a reminder that we are a product of both nature and nurture.”