Cascade: book review


Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. Publisher: Viking (2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 356 pages. ISBN: 978-0-670-02602-9.

“How many painters had seized Shakepeare’s image of Ophelia floating among the flowers? How many maritime paintings had captured, for one transfixed moment, sailors going down at sea? People were fascinated by drowning– and here she herself had proof of that, with people from across the country responding to the mesmerizing prospect of a town drowned. A “great deluge” was part of the myth and legend of almost every culture on earth.”

When we meet Desdemona Hart Spaulding, already married, in her hometown of Cascade she’s not the type of housewife one might envision in 1935. Desdemona graduated from a Boston art school, spent time studying in Paris and dreams of moving to New York to pursue her aspirations of working as an artist. The marriage is an unfortunate one of convenience. Desdemona’s father lost his theater and his money recently and needed his daughter to marry for money to support both of them. She idolizes her father and couldn’t refuse and finds herself married to Asa Spaulding, the town pharmacist. Her father dies two months later. Strangely he leaves his theater to Desdemona’s new husband or her first born child and not to his daughter. Dez has long believed that a child will only keep her from pursuing her dreams of independence as a free-spirited New York artist. She has no intention of getting pregnant. I’m always thrilled to find a strong feminist character in a novel.

As Desdemona struggles with her artistic goals, Massachusetts wants to obliterate Cascade and surrounding towns to create a much-needed reservoir to supply drinking water to Boston. It turns out that this reservoir may benefit Dez’s career. She begins to paint a series for a popular magazine. Many believe she’s forsaking her town for fame and begin to shun her and gossip about her. Author Maryann O’Hara painstakingly researched the creation of the Quabbin reservoir, the largest man-made reservoir in the world. Hundreds of people were displaced when numerous towns were wiped out during this massive State project. Eliminating entire towns seems unfathomable and O’Hara provides an empathetic and descriptive what- if with her fictional Cascade.

Why Dez’s father left the theater to her husband I could not comprehend it. As an only child, Dez was close to her father. She went to art school and studied in Paris. He knew this wasn’t just a hobby for her. Why would he do such a thing to his only daughter? Soon after her father’s death, Dez meets traveling salesman/ artist Jacob Salomon. She falls head over heels for him. I found this plot-line so disappointing. I didn’t find Jacob attractive in any way. He didn’t even treat Dez respectfully. He though only of himself and she went out of her way for him. It set the story back. Here’s this independent creative woman planning to go to New York to establish herself as an artist and along comes a man and suddenly her plans waver. She could run off with Jacob, yet another man and live the way he wants to live. She could move to New York on her own, be an artist and follow her own dreams, as risky as that might be for a woman in the 1930s, or she could stay with her husband in a stable suburban existence which never challenges her.

FTC Disclosure: I received this novel for review from the publisher.

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