Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara
Published by Penguin Books
Published on April 30, 2013
Received from HFVBT in exchange for an honest review
During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made.
Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.
It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?
Cascade is a poignant novel about a woman trying to escape the sphere of domesticity to live her life as she always intended. So many people faced desperate situations during the Great Depression and Maryanne O’Hara captured that desperation with such texture and detail. Desdemona’s own desperation runs throughout the book.
Desdemona, or Dez, is a wonderful character. She sacrificed her life in the art world to save her father’s dreams and marries just for financial security. Her claustrophobia sets in very quickly where she continues to dream and fixate on water and drowning. Her home town of Cascade faces total destruction to make way for a new reservoir and she feels trapped. Her only outlet is her art and Jacob. I can’t image what it would be like to be a woman artist in the 1930s. Your opportunities would be so limited. You are expected to marry and have children. A woman’s place is in the home. Dez’s struggle with domesticity is a continuing theme in the book.
At heart, Dez is an artist. That is the only way she can survive. At times, she is very self-absorbed but I think that is a common characteristic for any artistic person. Her husband could not understand that about her. Her world could not revolve around him. She has to live through her art. She can make some serious bad decisions. But she is very human and trying to find her place in the world.
Bigotry is also a running theme through this book. World War II is about to begin and there is huge back lash against the Jewish community. When Dez falls in love with Jacob she sees firsthand how people are treated even though they’ve done nothing wrong. Her feelings of guilt are strong on how Jacob is treated.
I found Cascade to be very emotional book and I highly recommend it.
About the Author
Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.
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