03 January 2013
Book Review: Cascade, by Maryanne O'Hara
The primary plot around which the various other storylines revolve is that of Dez (or Desdemona) Hart Spaulding, an aspiring artist who feels more than a little trapped in her life in the small town of Cascade, Massachusetts. She is married to Asa, but for her the marriage was largely a convenience to assist her and her aging father when they faced a dire financial situation. (The story, I should mention, opens in 1935, during the Depression.) Once her father dies, she simply feels stuck, especially when she discovers that her father, who ran the local playhouse, turned it over to her husband in trust until she has a child who can inherit it. The problem is that Dez doesn't really want a child, and she definitely doesn't want one with her husband, despite his ongoing eagerness to start a family.
Dez has other plans, however, and her professional goal (as an artist) is to move to New York and work there. But Asa, the local pharmacist, shows little interest in either this or really in her work. In her frustration, she turns to an artist friend named Jacob Solomon for whom she develops an unexpected passion. She resists as long as possible until she finally has to admit to herself that Jacob is and will always be more to her than a friend.
Among the other storylines is the ongoing potential that Cascade faces of pretty much ceasing to exist. The state water board is considering the option of flooding the town to form a new reservoir for nearby Boston. The citizens of the town are horrified and work toward avoiding this (by, if necessary, having the state flood another town instead). Dez does her part by creating artwork that brings the town to life for a magazine, but the plan ultimately backfires when Dez again finds herself in the position of compromising her values. Added to this are a couple of suspicious deaths that are just a little too close to comfort for Dez, particularly when questions fall on Jacob.
Finally, a storyline that's more subtle but is definitely there is Dez's relationship with her deceased father. Her choice to marry Asa was because of him; her willingness to make difficult personal sacrifices was on his behalf. At the end of the story, when Dez has worked to bring the playhouse back to life, she discovers that those sacrifices might ultimately have been in vain, that her father chose himself over her.
All in all, this is a complex story with excellent character development and strong descriptive style.
The author's website for the book.
Year of publication: 2012
Number of pages: 353