Author: Maryanne O’Hara
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher for tour with TLC Book Tours
First line: During his final days, William Hart was haunted by drowning dreams.
Goodreads blurb: 1935: Desdemona Hart Spaulding was an up-and-coming Boston artist when she married in haste and settled in the small, once-fashionable theater town of Cascade to provide a home for her dying father. Now Cascade is on the short list to be flooded to provide water for Boston, and Dez’s discontent is complicated by her growing attraction to a fellow artist. When tragic events unfold, Dez is forced to make difficult choices. Must she keep her promises? Is it morally possible to set herself free?
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 within the context of the Depression, NYC during Roosevelt’s New Deal era, and the approaching World War.
Maryanne O’Hara writes beautifully, and in Cascade she has given us a story in which the main character’s fate runs parallel to the fate of the town of Cascade. Dez marries in order to provide a home for her father. She felt trapped, but was willing to make the sacrifice for her father. When he dies a few short months later, Dez faces the rest of her life married to a man she doesn’t love. As her marriage begins to disintegrate, so does Cascade’s future.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a whole town flooded in order to provide a water reservoir. It is horrifying that an entire community could lose everything – homes, businesses, livelihoods – because of a government decision. O’Hara writes of the town as if it was a living thing, and a beautiful one – and this makes the idea of it being chosen as the new reservoir even more tragic.
The story of Dez and Cascade plays out against the backdrop of rising tension in Europe and growing anti-Semitism at home. Her relationship with Jacob is complicated not only because she is married, but also because of his Jewishness. It always surprises me how much prejudice existed in the United States during World War II. We like to sit in judgment of Nazi Germany, but we were not blameless as a nation.
While O’Hara’s writing is gorgeous, I found Dez to be a difficult character to like. I felt sorry for her, but I also felt for her husband, who truly loved her and didn’t realize he was marrying a woman who had no feelings for him. She is a very prickly character, and some of the choices she made were polarizing. This isn’t a happy, feel-good novel, and it has an over-hanging mood of melancholy. The writing is strong enough for me to give it a four-star rating, however, and I will definitely be watching to see what O’Hara writes in the future.