“[W]hen artistry seems most elusive is when you must focus, dig deep, and force yourself to think about how to give form to an idea that seems almost too vague to express.” Maryanne O’Hara, CASCADE
Cascade was published in August and is 368 pages. I learned about the novel on Twitter, and purchased it with the intent of reading it after my book tour. I opened it one evening on the road to preview the first chapter, and became completely immersed in the 1930s world of a painter trying to save her father’s theater (and herself) in a town about to be flooded to become a reservoir.
In the Boston suburb of Cascade in 1935, Desdemona Hart Spaulding has put off her art career in New York to care for her dying father, and in the process, has married a steady local man to rest her father’s concerns about her own well being, and to resurrect the theater in town, to which her father has devoted his life.
When her father dies, not only has she realized the terrible error of her marriage, but she learns that the town of Cascade is in the running to be destroyed so that it can become a reservoir for Boston. Desdemona does not wish to hurt her husband, but her deepest desire is to have freedom from the marriage to pursue a career in art, and a relationship with a Jewish painter with whom she has fallen in love. As the town faces increasing pressure and the knowledge that its demise is imminent, Dez becomes entangled in a web of her own desires and mistakes that take on catastrophic consequences.
With its doomed lovers and condemned town, CASCADE, reads like the kind of Shakespearean drama that would have been performed on the wooden planks of Dez’s father’s theater. O’Hara does an admirable job portraying a woman conflicted about her choices, but unwilling to compromise on her dreams. I found myself wanting to physically hold Dez back or warn her from walking into bad decisions, but that is what made the novel so compelling. I was also satisfied with the denouement, when Desdemona reaches full maturity and demonstrates her growth.
O’Hara skillfully weaves Desdemona’s creative process through the emotional tapestry of the novel, and her prose is exquisite. This book is a perfect balance of literary fiction with a compelling plot, and would make an excellent book club selection. I can envision a lively debate about Dez’s choices with some siding with her or standing firmly against her. Dez is a complex heroine and one of the most real I’ve read in recent memory, and I won’t soon forget her.
Unlike the town, the novel CASCADE will be timeless because of O’Hara’s storytelling. I highlighted passage after passage of the beautiful language, and I want to reread the novel to hunt for the Shakespearean references I know are there. If you are a fan of historical fiction that deals with complex relationships and thematic layers, I recommend that you read this book. I give CASCADE my highest endorsement.