Author: Maryanne O'Hara (Website|Facebook)
Publisher: Viking Adult
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:
During the 1930s, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her heart's ambitions with binding promises she has made
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.
First Sentence: "During his final days, William Hart was haunted by drowning dreams."
Though set during the 1930s and 1940s, Cascade does not focus on the more traditional subject matter of the Great Depression or WWII. Both affect Desdemona's life, but only indirectly. The foundation of the book focuses on Desdemona's relationship with her father and his Shakespearean theater. Their relationship was a close one, and she would do anything for him, even sacrifice her own quality of life. When the theater had to close due to monetary concerns in the economic downturn, Desdemona wed a persistent, fairly well-off suitor, Asa Spaulding, so that she and her father could have somewhere to live without having to sell the theater. Her father passes not long after, asking Desdemona to swear that she will reopen the theater.
While the business with the theater frames the plot, the real crux of the matter is Desdemona's desires and the way they contrast with society's expectations for her. Her husband expects her to birth his children and iron his shirts. Her dad has made her promise to put the theater first, and,unfortunately, has given it legally to Asa as a dowry of sorts, tying her to his fate. What Des really wants is to live by her art, and to do so with Jacob, a fellow artist. Though Asa is a nice man, he and Des do not share interests or dreams.
Love triangles and infidelity are not plot lines that I generally prefer, but Maryanne O'Hara parallels Desdemona's romantic life with her professional life. She cannot be everything at once or please everyone. To be an independent woman in that era, a woman had to make certain sacrifices. Though Des didn't always make what I deem the right choices, she does take responsibility for her own life. She does not mope or live regretfully; she tries, even when she knows she probably shouldn't.
O'Hara's depictions of both the small town of Cascade and the city of New York shine with authenticity. Even the pace of the story matches the different settings, with the parts of the book set in Cascade flowing by slowly and calmly, while New York passes by in a swift, almost confusing blur. More details in the New York section might have left me a bit more satisfied with the way the novel ended, but, from a compositional standpoint, it is brilliant.
While beautifully done, Cascade is a slow read. The pages did not fly by, particularly towards the beginning. If you like a fast pace, you will likely struggle. Once Des began to spread her metaphorical wings and stop living in the shadow of society's expectations, the novel really picked up speed. The focus here lies more on mood, setting, art than on any sort of action.
Cascade will delight readers who appreciate lush writing and atmosphere. Though slow, Cascade certainly is worth pushing through for those who appreciate historical fiction with a unique viewpoint.
Favorite Quote: "And Dez had no patience with these movies that had people simply looking at each other and falling in love. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. Where was the connection, what linked them together? Common interest? Understanding of the other? In the book, Vronsky so clearly saw and was attracted to Anna's nature. The movie should show that, show her nature revealed somehow, should make clear that it was her soul that he loved."