Friday 3 May 2013

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

Desdemona Spaulding is a newly-wed living in the picturesque town of  Cascade, Massachusetts.  With her ageing father close to bankruptcy, Dez made a convenient marriage to Asa in order to save her father's pride and joy, his Shakespeare theater   But little did she know that her father would soon pass away and that she herself would meet Jacob Solomon, a fellow artist, and come to question the practical life she had chosen for herself.  The events of the novel take place against the backdrop of a town living with uncertainty; Boston is running out of water and Cascade is one of two towns that may be flooded in order to create a new reservoir.

Cascade is a quiet, bittersweet kind of novel.  It's very much character driven and focused on the choices real people have to make, between options that are on a sliding scale of desirability ("I'm sorry, but life is full of tough choices between less-than-perfect alternatives.").  The first half of the novel is quite slow paced, as the main characters are established and the attraction between Dez and Jacob becomes apparent.  Dez's husband, Asa, also has a lot of page time as it becomes clear that he's a decent person, just not the right sort of person for Dez.  I liked that O'Hara wrote him that way, and didn't take the easy option of making Dez's husband a monster, in order to excuse her adultery.

The pace of the novel picks up in the second half as all the characters have to live with the consequences of events that happen in the middle of the novel, as Cascade learns whether or not it is to be flooded.  Cascade is a hard book to write about as on paper, not much happens, but it's utterly compelling and contains some of the best characterisation I've seen for a long time.  Dez, Asa and Jacob felt completely real and the choices they make are flawed but understandable.  I'm sure that most readers will be able to relate to Dez's growing discovery that life isn't like a story with a guaranteed happy ending, but convoluted with twists, turns and falls.

The historical setting of the novel is well handled, and never overwhelms the main plot.  Although I enjoyed reading about Dez's adventures as an artist in more liberal New York, I liked all the little details about small town American life the best, like Dez mixing vanilla cokes at the soda fountain and participating in town meetings.   The historical elements of the story felt authentic, with no anachronisms.

On the whole, I'd definitely recommend Cascade to those who enjoy realistic, character-driven novels.  The writing was excellent and I'll certainly be looking out for anything else O'Hara writes.

Source: Historical Fiction Book Tours
Published: August 2012
Score: 4.5 out of 5


  1. I can't believe this book escaped my attention - this is just the kind of story I like!

  2. "realistic, character-driven novel"? Sold.

  3. Thank you so much for this lovely of my book! I appreciate that you took the time.

    And thanks to everyone who will read it. I hope that it gives you a lot to think about!

    Maryanne O'Hara

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, I really loved reading the book.

  4. Great Review....I LOVED this book.

  5. I love the cover of this book. It's good to know it's character-driven - that way I can read it when I'm in the mood for that style. :)

  6. I agree with Alyce I love the cover of this book, very striking. I enjoy historical fiction and character driven stories, so this book sounds like my cup of tea. I will have to make a note of this one, thank you for sharing.

  7. What a beautiful looking and sounding book!
    I really appreciate when an author doesn't take the easy way out. It's seems simple for a character to look for love outside of a horrible marriage but it's much more complicated (and interesting) when the husband is a good guy too.

  8. This sounds lovely - I love when characters work in more complicated realms. The cover is very striking, too - in the thumbnail from blogger, all one could see was the cascade itself, not the rest of the image - a wonderful surprise on coming over to the post.