Book Review: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

Title: Cascade
Author: Maryanne O’Hara
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Publisher: Viking
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.

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13 Responses to Book Review: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

  1. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    Sometimes I’m in the mood for a book with a dark feeling to it. This sounds really good to me.

  2. AnnH
    Twitter: mordyth
    says:

    I’m not usually attracted to historical fiction, but this one sounds fascinating. I too am curious about what lies beneath. CASCADE is getting added to my list on Good mordythReads! Thanks!

  3. Laurie C
    Twitter: baystateRA
    says:

    This is on my TBRS (To Be Read Soon) list because of the Massachusetts setting. Also, I met the author briefly at the Boston Book Festival and she was very nice.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Laurie – I’m always so jealous of people who meet authors in person! I live in a rural area, and the nearest big city is Spokane, Washington. Not exactly a hot spot for author visits!

  4. Maryanne OHara says:

    Hi Carrie, and thank you so much for being on my blog tour. I am glad you enjoyed the writing in CASCADE. As for Dez, with every review, or book event now, I wait to hear: “I loved Dez and identified with her,” or “I really didn’t like Dez at all!” It’s one or the other and seeing those reactions has been so interesting for me, as a writer. All my previous pubs have been short fiction, and you don’t get a lot of reader response to those.

    Anyway, thank you! And I hope you read and enjoy the book, Kathy, Anne, and Laurie (nice to have met you at BBF).

    Happy ’13 to all.

    Maryanne OHara

  5. Beth Hoffman says:

    I’ve been hearing good things about this book and have decided to add it to my list. Terrific review, Carrie!

  6. Pingback: Maryanne O’Hara, author of Cascade, on tour December 2012 | TLC Book Tours

  7. I can understand how Dez would be difficult to warm up to – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be someone I’d choose as a friend in real life – but her story sounds REALLY good!

    Thanks for being on the tour!