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Cascade: A Novel by Maryanne O'Hara

Cascade: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Maryanne O'Hara

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1401685,666 (4.06)6
Title:Cascade: A Novel
Authors:Maryanne O'Hara
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library, ARC
Tags:historical fiction, HNR, ARC, Massachusetts, 1935, Theater, relationships, flooding towns, prejudice, social issues

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Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara



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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
ascade by Maryanne O'Hara was inspired by a real event in Quabbin, Massachusetts. The time was in Great the Depression and Boston was clamoring for more water. The state legislature had to make the determination of which places to submerge with water so a reservoir could be created. You can read more about the real town on the author's website.

Desdemona Hart Spaulding had married so that her beloved father, William and the rest of her family could survive the Depression. Yet she was always yearning to be well known artist and be independent. When her father died in their house, he left the town's playhouse to her husband. Previously, the playhouse had been very popular with its presentations of Shakespeare's plays. But now the playhouse might be submerged with the rest of the town if Cascade didn't win over Whistling Falls for survival.

This is a tale based on history of love, fate, and whether anything is really permanent.

I loved this book. I didn't always agree with Des's decision but I could not stop reading and also wondering about the stories of the people who lost Quabbin.

I highly recommend this historical fiction to all my friends and am very eager to read more from Maryanne O'Hara in the future. ( )
  Carolee888 | Jun 28, 2013 |
Rarely is there a book that I say it is hard for me to put down but that is the case with Cascade. Well written, interesting characters, multiple intriguing plot lines and a very satisfying ending. What is not to like? The book's principle two themes are whether or not the town of Cascade can be saved from destruction by flooding caused by a new reservoir and secondly a young lady artist whose ambitions are being thwarted by living in this small town. This book could easily be adapted into a very good movie with lots on nice acting roles. I have nothing bad to say about this book. Read it. ( )
  muddyboy | Jun 19, 2013 |
Sometimes books speak to us -- uniquely, exclusively. The elements of a particular story combine to seem formed just for you . . . and so it was with Maryanne O'Hara's Cascade. I should preface my review by acknowledging my deep, overwhelming fear of water. Of drowning. Of being pulled under. The idea of an entire town being purposely dismantled and flooded to form a reservoir -- of a place that once existed but has since been razed, morphed into a lake -- is both fascinating and horrifying.

Reading Cascade was such a lush, complicated experience. Of the many elements happening in one 350-page book, the connection brewing between Dez and Jacob captivated me completely. My heart literally ached reading about their friendship, however brief, and the story's progression found me desperately hoping for something I knew could never be. Without giving anything way, I felt splintered by the novel's close. Just splintered. Gut-punched.

And that's the mark of a great story.

And this was a wholly unique tale. One with which I sympathized, and empathized, and became completely swept inside. Between its mirroring of Shakespearean classics and historical tidbits of life just before Pearl Harbor, O'Hara does a masterful job of portraying a town facing imminent destruction just as millions face a gruesome end in Europe. The distrust of the Jewish population -- and of Jacob -- was devastating, and made me thankful for the intervening years since World War II.

Just as interesting was the art scene -- a vivid world portrayed through Dez's work and connections. New York seemed a wholly familiar and unfamiliar place through O'Hara's pen: a world I know but do not know. I loved the descriptions of Dez's paintings and plans, and the light-filled studio rooms in which she would recreate safe spaces. It was romantic and lovely. And the overarching theme -- "nothing gold can stay," if you will, or nothing and no one lasts forever -- made me sad and reflective but ultimately . . . hopeful? Yes. Hopeful.

There's so much I want to talk about, but so much I cannot talk about. This is a story you need to experience and devour yourself. Though it took me 80 pages or so to become fully invested in Cascade's future, I feel changed as a reader for having read this book. It was magnificent. There aren't too many novels I'd herald as "a triumph," the hyperbole of that making me squint, but seriously: Cascade is phenomenal. It touched me. It made me cry. It broke my heart. It raised so many questions.

I absolutely loved it, and it's time to discover it for yourself. ( )
  writemeg | May 13, 2013 |
Water submerges everything in its wake. Sometimes slowly, sometimes violently but in the end it drowns you nonetheless.

The small town of Cascade in 1930s New England has to face this reality as it lives under the threat of destruction by the waters of the Cascade river, due to be dammed to form a reservoir to add to the region’s water supply. It is against this backdrop that O’Hara introduces Desdemona Hart Spaulding, a woman whose life is as tied to the myriad of currents flowing through the novel as Cascade is to the course of the river that threatens its survival. A talented artist with immense potential, Desdemona is drowning in a marriage made of convenience to save her dying father’s legacy, the town Playhouse. Without her solid, conventional husband Asa Spaulding’s money, the Playhouse would have been lost along with her father’s other assets. Having saved it, both the Playhouse and Desdemona belong to Asa, a reflection of the restrictions placed on a woman living in America in the 1930s. While Desdemona is losing herself gradually beneath the drip-feed of her marriage, a raging torrent threatens to sweep her away in the form of Jacob Solomon, a Jewish artist and travelling salesman who arrives in her life carrying inspiration and hope that she could free herself from the undertow that threatens to pull her beneath the surface of this small town world. Against the subtle political backdrop of the European persecution of the Jews, Jacob stands as an outsider in the small-minded world of a 1930s town that lacks the cosmopolitan edge of the city that Desdemona longs to dive into. Through ‘Cascade’ flows the story of Desdemona’s search for independence and artistic credibility in a bygone age.

‘Cascade’ is a quietly interesting tale. It is not high literary fiction but beautifully accessible characterisation and prose. O’Hara created characters that have stayed with me beyond the last page. None of them were highly complex but that is not a criticism - it is exactly their simplicity that brought them to life. They were far from uni-dimensional but O’Hara refrained from over-writing them and so peopled the novel with individuals that were believable rather than an exercise in literary layering. There were no devils in this book – it was refreshing to read a novel where it was easy to like the characters, whose flaws were recognisable as those you encounter in everyday life rather than dramatic, extreme failings. The historical representation of America in 1930s, whilst interesting, was not the dominating factor in this novel, which won me over much more on the level of individual characters than any statement it made about society at the time.

Overall, ‘Cascade’ is an easy read with a serious edge without driving its point home too hard. With likeable, memorable characters and set in a bygone era, it’s a good solid read. ( )
1 vote klarusu | May 2, 2013 |
CASCADE reminded me very much of A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly (that's a good thing). Though the latter is a coming-of-age novel and the main character is sixteen, she faces at least one of the same choices as twenty-six-year-old Desdemona in CASCADE: leave her small town to pursue a career as an artist, or stay to take care of her family?

On top of that major dilemma, Dez is facing a few other issues: re-opening her father's famous Shakspeare playhouse; her attraction to another artist, Jacob; her reluctance to have children, though her husband wants to start a family; and the imminent drowning of the town of Cascade, to make way for a reservoir for the city of Boston.

Dez's problems are understandable in any time or place, which makes it easy to empathize with her. In an interview, O'Hara cites a line from poet Seamus Heaney: “He wrote, ‘You lose more of yourself than you redeem doing the decent thing.’ That stopped me in my tracks. Who really benefits in the end if you sacrifice all for others?”

This is the question Dez faces as Cascade's future becomes bleaker, World War II looms in the background, and the WPA gives American artists a lift. Yet even as Dez makes important decisions, the ground shifts beneath her, and those decisions have unexpected outcomes.


It was the kind of day that would turn to night without fanfare, with a gradual extinguishing of light, the kind of day that pierced you with melancholy and reminded you it was only December, that a whole winter had still to be gotten through. (3)

Dismay is a small, quiet emotion. We say we are filled with dismay, when actually dismay causes us to pause and quietly check our consciences. (12)

Then...what she always hoped for with oils, but could never count on, happened: the convergence of effort and inspiration into something that actually looked the way she intended it to look. (77)

Sometimes an image was enough. It was all about curiosity, in a way. Could you make this happen? Could you do with your hands and a brush what your mind's eye had already painted? (84)

"[W]e're all born the same and the only divisions between us are ones we make ourselves." (95)

Maybe every person's first reaction to a problem was instinctively selfish....Maybe overcoming that instinct was what differentiated the truly good from everyone else. (105)

Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. (134)

"We people take up space, and then when we're gone, there's just the space left, and sometimes you can't quite comprehend how that can happen." (168)

So many contingencies marked our destinies. (191)

"Sometimes things are as they must be, not as they ought to be....I'm so sorry, but life is full of tough choices between less-than-perfect alternatives." (272)

...it made her heartsick a moment, and then glad she had left, glad she had the opportunity to feel heartsick rather than bored and trapped. (280)

When she left Cascade in July, Cascade seemed to become a place that existed somewhere lost in time. It was strangely disorienting to be heading back. (293)

...the mere fact of mystery uncovered always brought with it a sense of disappointment, of deflation. (319-320)

And that was the thing about art, about any artistic endeavor where you gathered all the energy and emotion that surrounded you and tried to paint it, write it, sing it. It was never quite enough. There was always the impulse to try for better, for purer. (325) ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
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During his final days, William Hart was haunted by drowning dreams.
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Book description
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?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670026026, Hardcover)

During the 1930s, in a town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife with artistic promise must choose between duty and desire
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.

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?

"What do we have to give up to be whom we yearn to be?  CASCADE unfolds like a Shakespearean tragedy, with an ending you won't see coming. Much like a drowned town, the novel becomes something that you can't take your eyes from or stop thinking about in wonder.The Boston Globe

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Struggling to preserve her family's theater and married to a man desperate for children, would-be artist Desdemona Hart of 1935 Massachusetts is drawn to creative newcomer Jacob Solomon, who is wrongly implicated by anti-Semitic townspeople after a murder.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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