Digital book provided by publisher through NetGalley via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for a fair 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 by Maryanne O'Hara is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover is just amazing and the author does a wonderful job of describing Dez's drive to paint and the need to get an idea onto canvas. I found that I was really drawn to this aspect of the novel. I appreciated the love of Shakespearean theater conveyed throughout the story as well.
O'Hara does a good job of bringing to life the depression era and the situation for women of the time. Dez had lived a pretty pampered life until the depression hit. She was well educated, was able to go off to study art and had expected that she would go to New York to be an artist. Of course, the Depression changed many plans for many people. Even as many others are losing everything, she finds a marriage of convenience that allows her to care for her bankrupt, ill father and continue painting in a small studio in her husband's home. It isn't exactly what she wanted, but it was so much better than it could have been. Dez is aware of this, but she can't quite make herself be satisfied with the life she chose. In many ways, I can understand and sympathize with her situation; however, in other ways, I found some of the things she does pretty much inexcusable. Since Dez does eventually realize that she made many mistakes and seems to grow as a person through the novel, I found her to be a fairly sympathetic character, overall.
I thought the best parts of the book dealt with Dez and her art - her drive and the descriptions of how she worked. I found it interesting that so much of the book deals with Cascade and the possibility of it being flooded for the reservoir at the same time that Dez feels she is drowning in her marriage. I was glad to see that the book dealt with the expectations regarding women during the period and the racism that was still very common contrasted against the portrayal of often idealized small-town America.
There was a wonderfully ironic bit at the end of the book that I found to be so appropriate. I won't give it away, but I thought it fit wonderfully. I enjoyed the book very much even though I got really frustrated with Dez fairly often while reading. However, I did find her to be a very believable character - good intentions despite some of her decisions, driven by her art, trying to do the right thing, but flawed like all of us. I was quite satisfied with how the book ended because Dez did grow as a person and learned from her mistakes.
About the AuthorMaryanne 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.
For more information on Maryanne O’Hara, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and GoodReads.
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