Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TLC Book Review - Cascade

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara
Viking Penguin, 2012

Format? Hardback

Why? Love, love, love historical fiction...especially American historical fiction

Title?  pretty simple...the name of the town, the river and the waterfall...but does indicate twisting, swirling, fast and slow moving water...like life sometimes

Cover? the colors make me think of Dez's postcards...the head is hers with the bun and of course the Cascade waterfall...which figuratively I think is Dez's life and what goes on in her head, so it fits.

I was reminded of? The Chaperone - Cascade takes place in a different part of the country than The Chaperone, but the early timeframe of Dez's life with Asa is the same as Cora's adult, married life.  The parallels were really intriguing...I kept wondering what Cora might be doing when Dez wonders about the dust storms and the state of the nation at that time.  Cora's husband fared much better than Dez's father after the stock market crash, so it's also a look at two opposite sides of life during Roosevelt's New Deal era.

I was also reminded of the song Que Sera Sera - whatever will be, will be...the future's not ours to see, Que, Sera Sera.

What Now?  This is O'Hara's first novel...I will definitely be reading the next one :) Cascade is now in its place on the shelves of my antique secretary...a keeper for sure :)

Golden Lines

"No babies means you can leave" (35).

She told Abby how Rose - "Yes, that sweet old lady Rose, of all people" - with absolutely no self-consciousness, taught her, before she left for Chicago, how to calculate dangerous days: lying quietly with a thermometer, keeping charts (35).

Art News was reporting a turn away from Cubism, the hard times triggering a return to Realism.  Thomas Hart Benton was the man of the hour, celebrated for his scenes of everyday life rendered in a sinewy, pulsating style.  He and his followers were breathing new life into a representational style that critics were starting to call American Regionalism.  He was teaching in New York, at the Art Students League, a place Dez imagined with "everyone's there but me" despair (41).

"I want children and I want Dr. Proulx's opinion why they're not coming, damn it.  I'm entitled to that!  I'm a little sick of my friends looking at me like - The house is a disaster."  His voice rose.  "My wife's only friend the traveling Jew-man" (53).

If the worst happened, if the reservoir was built in Cascade, she would record it all, maybe in a series of panels, explore what it meant to dismantle a town, to disincorporate it, to move everybody out and say this place no longer exists.  In Europe, she had seen murals depicting the rape of Europa, the fall of Rome.  You could tell whole stories with mural panels.  In Paris, in the twelfth arrondissement, painted on the side of a courthouse, was a depiction of the French revolution, which began with early fires lit by insurrectionists and ended with Marie Antoinette's neatly guillotined head falling into a bucket (73).

 What was meant to happen would happen, she told herself (133).

The word itself - divorce - was startling, so vulgar and cheap, one she couldn't imagine applied to herself.  Someone asking, "Are you married?" And having to say, "I'm divorced" (145).

That was the thing about signs.  You could read them any way you liked (161).

And that was the saving grace of art.  As soon as you started to immerse yourself,  even slightly, you could be swept up, absorbed (180).

So many contingencies marked our destines (191).

"I'm so sorry, but life is full of tough choices between less-than-perfect alternatives" (272)

"Cry and get it out," she said.  "Then get over it, because it wasn't meant to be" (272).


Dez (Desdemona) is an artist who, in her father's wealthy days, traveled and trained in Europe with plans to take her art to NY. During the Great Depression, after her father's bankruptcy, Dez marries pharmacist, Asa, so that she and her father will have a place to live, only to find herself in a lonely traditional marriage in her hometown, Cascade, MA after her father dies only two short months later.

Asa pressures Dez for children...it's the natural order of things in a life he's grown accustomed to, and he cannot understand why Dez doesn't feel the way he does.  An old threat re-surfaces in Cascade :  the water commission pinpoints either Cascade or another neighboring small town as the site for a reservoir to provide water for Boston.  The reservoir will completely destroy the town and everything its people have ever known.  Dez's art is noticed when she begins painting a series of postcards of Cascade...the past, the present and the possible future.  Dez also meets Jacob, another trained artist who is also the son of a Jewish traveling salesman.  Jacob is selling his father's wares after his father's death.  Dez and Jacob begin spending time together painting, and Dez begins to imagine what life might be like if she wasn't trapped in her life with Asa.    Divorce isn't acceptable yet, but neither is a Jewish partner.  Dez's life becomes one big domino game of sorts.  Each decision she makes, each action she takes, begins a chain of events that she can only ride through...just like the unpredictable river.

What I Liked

A book that makes me think...and Google :) 
Spanish Flu 1918
The Great Depression
Roosevelt's New Deal politics - Emergency Banking Act
Works Progress Administration
Art history and movements
Dust Bowl
Shakespearean Theatre
NY newspaper business and illustrators/photographers
red auction flags for those whose houses were foreclosed by the bank
prejudice against Jews in the U.S.
early years of WWII
politics - land ownership vs the government needing the land...and taking it

I'm not an artist.  From the very beginning of the story, it is apparent that Maryanne O'Hara is or was or is in some way deeply connected to an artist or artist(s)...it's not just the art history and the way she weaves the facts into the story; it's the descriptions of the painting process...the closest I can come to describing the experience of reading these portions is watching Bob Ross paint on PBS when I was a kid...so effortless, the way he talked us through each stroke...not like a boring instruction but almost a Think Aloud if you will...even if you're not an artist, and have no experience with the mediums Dez uses, you can't help but be pulled in by O'Hara's words.

I was afraid a few times that Dez was going to become one of those half insane love lost kinda women who pine away for the rest of their lives over what they thought should have been...thank heavens that wasn't the case.  Dez isn't superwoman, by any stretch of the imagination, but she does find a way to put one foot in front of the other...even on the worst imaginable days.

The frank discussion and inclusion of women's sexuality in the narrative.  As forward as the times were becoming, I was so sad for Dez when she had to wait and wait and wait with growing despair to find out if she was pregnant.  I wanted so much to go buy her a pregnancy test!  Any woman who's ever been in that particular situation will appreciate Dez's trauma.

What I Didn't Like

Asa's indignance that Dez had married him to save her father and that she had never really loved him.  He had carried a torch for Dez a long time...I'll give him that.  But, he himself admitted that his own mother had encouraged him to quit waiting around for Dez...she was out of the country, painting...Did he really expect her to just come home and be his dutiful wife, have his babies and be content to cook and clean and socialize with the other traditional ladies in their church and community??  Pretty unrealistic expectations I thought...for a man who seems to be realistic in every other way.
I do understand, however, that at the point some women began to assert their independence and to imagine another life besides that of wife and mother, it was almost as difficult of an adjustment for the men in their lives as it was for the women themselves.  

Jacob - listen, Mister...make up your mind what you want...and take into consideration the irreparable damage you can cause when you pull others into your decision making...at first I was ok with Jacob, but then he just kindof pansied out.  I was very suspicious of his intentions as well...especially later in the story.

The ending - wow...caught me completely off guard...I was sad at first but then I realized the theme that runs through this novel is that everything happens for a reason...and that the choices we make set in motion events that can't be stopped.

Overall Recommendation

American historical fiction fans, here's one for you.  A great story of a very realistic woman, trying to balance her personal life with the professional, choosing not to have children, and making decisions that affect her life as well as those around her...but decisions that have to be made.

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, December 3rd: Booktalk & More
Tuesday, December 4th: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, December 5th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Thursday, December 6th: Book Journey
Friday, December 7th: JulzReads
Monday, December 10th: …the bookworm…
Tuesday, December 11th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, December 12th: Shall Write
Thursday, December 13th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Friday, December 14th: A Reader of Fictions
Monday, December 17th: Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, December 18th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, December 19th: I’m Booking It
Thursday, December 20th: Dreaming in Books
Wednesday, December 26th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, December 27th: Books and Movies
Wednesday, January 2nd: Lisa’s Yarns 
Thursday, January 3rd: Dwell in Possibility
Friday, January 4th: A Bookish Way of Life


  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, thorough, and well-written review! I love to hear from readers who connected with all the bits I hoped would be apparent.

    I am not, actually, an artist, but I can truly imagine what it's like to paint, and I can *see* those paintings. I only wish I could really paint them. Loved the Bob Ross comparison.

    And Jacob--yes. You *got* him exactly. :)

    Many thanks!


    PS: I really like your review format. Easy to read, especially online.

    1. Thanks so much, Maryanne, for stopping by and commenting! Makes my day!! :) Wow! I'm stunned that you're not an artist...just wow...you really can "see" the painting process :):) Even though I'm not a painter, I never got bored reading those parts...you somehow kept me involved from the point of inception to the last stroke. :)

  2. Excellent review! I like your format. :)

    Also, I love the cat in your blog header! Reminds me of my own named Pepper. :)

    1. Thanks, Ruth! That's my Uh-Oh :) He's a special fella :):)

  3. Excellent, detailed review of Cascade! I also enjoy historical fiction, and the "art part" has me intrigued. You also have me curious about the ending. :)

    1. Completely came out of the blue for me...I never expected it. I even peeked at the end and didn't get it until I read it all the way through :p

    2. Hi Suko, I hope you read and enjoy!

  4. I just quickly scanned your review as I am almost done with this one and enjoying it. Glad u did as well.

    1. I really like this kind of historical fiction, Diane...can't wait to read your final thoughts :)

  5. Never heard of this one prior to your review. What a striking cover.

  6. I'm really looking forward to this one. It called to me from when I first read the synopsis

  7. I really loved THE CHAPERONE for so many reasons, most of which you mention in your description of CASCADE. Sounds like a new addition to my TBR!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

    1. Thanks, Heather! and Thanks for having me on the tour!! :)