Monday, September 24, 2012

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

Title: Cascade
Author: Maryanne O'Hara

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / 1940s / New England / Berkshires / Marriages / Domestic Fiction / Artistic Ambitions / Love Triangle / WWII / Great Depression / Small Town Life)
Publisher/Publication Date: Viking (8/16/2012)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did -- but I lingered. No rushing through this one!
One-sentence summary: During WWII, a married artist in a small Massachusetts town finds herself struggling to keep her identity as her town faces possible destruction.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover. It is stunning. Go ahead, click for the hi-res version. Stunning.

I'm reminded of...: Karin Altenberg, April Bernard, Rosalind Brackenbury

First line: During his final days, William Hart was haunted by drowning dreams.

Do... I love the author's playlist for the novel?: YES. Wonderfully vintage-y, moody, and all linked up on Spotify!

Do... I love that the author's signed bookplates are styled to resemble postcards?: YES! The heroine's leap to fame is due to her series of postcards from Cascade.

Do... I love the photos the author uploaded on GoodReads that relate to this novel?: YES. From real life inspiration to background on the book's trailer, it's a wonderfully evocative collection.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- I finished this nearly a month ago and can't shake it.

Why did I get this book?: The cover -- oh, the cover.

Review: It is 1934 in Cascade, Massachusetts, a small town in the western part of the state. Picturesque, bucolic, it was once a thriving summer vacation spot, with a gorgeous Shakespearean theater managed by the big-hearted, passionate William Hart. Then the crash happened, the Depression hit, and like everywhere in the U.S., Cascade started going through hard times.

For Desdemona Hart Spaulding, talented daughter of William, her sacrifice to survive came in exchange for her happiness. An artist who trained in Boston and New York City, she married Cascade-native Asa Spaulding, a mild pharmacist who wanted nothing more than to settle down and have many babies. Dez, afraid for her ailing father and his now-shuttered theater, married in hopes of saving what she could -- her remaining family -- only to lose that two months later. Against that bitter loss came additional heartbreak: that Cascade was in competition with another small town to be leveled for a reservoir. Just when things couldn't possibly make Dez's life more agonizing, she meets Jacob Solomon, a Jewish artist who evokes in her deep passion and reminds her of the life she once thought she'd live.

This is the novel's opening -- we learn all this in the first few chapters. This gutting, beautiful, emotional setting spills into a story far more complicated and rich than I initially thought. I anticipated a historical novel with a love triangle; and there is that, the history, and the triangle, but there's more, too. There's the conflict of obligation to one's self, one's family, one's reputation, one's hometown; the very real march of progress and of war. In small town Cascade, one's reputation is a major currency, and Dez, Asa, and Jacob all feel the brunt of their town's changing and shifting opinion of them.

There's tragedy and betrayal and romance on a Shakespearean scale, and Dez is a complicated, maddening, honorable, childish, and beautiful heroine. I liked her and felt angry with her in equal part, but O'Hara wrote Dez so well that even when I wanted to shake her, I still wanted to hug her. I appreciated where her choices came from; I felt like I really knew her.

This is a historical novel of place -- a small-town during the Depression, a beloved landmark in danger of destruction -- and a romance -- star-crossed lovers -- as well as a snapshot of wartime America in the '30s and '40s -- national prejudices, fears, patriotism, the New Deal. O'Hara's writing is beautiful -- simple and sparse, but not thin -- and I lingered over this novel because I was so unwilling for it to end. This is O'Hara's first novel and it has ensured I am going to be a slavish fangirl of hers.

24 comments:

  1. I'll pretty much just say: yes, this.

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    1. thank you -- I struggled with this review b/c I had such complicated feelings about Dez!

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  2. I love Depression era fiction, and you have made this one sound so beautiful and rich that I am going to go straight from this page and order it. I love the sound of this book, and really need to read it. This was a terrific review Audra, and I can't wait to see what I think!

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    1. Heather -- you will *love* this one then -- it is so staggeringly beautifully written -- the story so unique -- and all these 'predictable' twists totally surprised me. And Dez, our heroine -- very real, for good and bad -- I just looved this book. l.o.v.e.d.

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  3. Oh, I have to get ahold of this book now -- I've been obsessed with it since first spotting that absolutely gorgeous cover! (Which is probably half due to the fact that I'm obsessed with waterfalls...) So glad to hear it's a winner!

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    1. Oh, Meg, the book is as good as the cover -- as pretty -- as emotive -- gah -- I can't even cope with my love for it. So good.

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  4. This sounds so good--have already added it to my to-read list! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It keeps growing on me as time goes by -- I was literally distressed at times while reading but oh, so good -- and the end!

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  5. That's one time period I never fail to tire of reading about. I admire the people who lived through the Depression - they just sucked it up and made the best of things. I love that cover too!

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    1. Kathy -- it's a facet -- or, I guess, a focus on the Depression I don't often think of -- the rest of the US (rather than the dust bowl) and the real life planning of reservoirs that ultimately resulted in the wholesale destruction of communities. The WPA is featured as well, which I'm totally captivated by -- this book touches upon so many great details of the era.

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  6. Yay! I recently watched the book trailer, which forced me to immediately put it on my TBR. So glad that you enjoyed it, I can't wait to read this one!

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    1. Natalie -- you won't regret getting this one!

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  7. This sounds wonderful. I will definitely be adding it to my list. I agree that the cover is stunning.

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  8. I'm sold! And the cover is GOR-GEOUS!!!

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    1. Heather, it is sooo good and with you being a MA-er, you might esp enjoy that local connection -- it gave me SUCH a hankering to go out to Lenox!

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  9. This sounds so good. Thanks for the post.

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  10. You're right, the cover's beautiful, and it's a good concept. They are in competition to be levelled for a reservoir, how lovely... Is it a long book? - It sounds quite epic.

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    1. 300ish pages, I think -- O'Hara is good at conveying the passage of time -- and the changing of the characters -- very deftly. I think maybe a decade goes by, but it is done so well.

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  11. Okay, when I saw how much you loved this, I knew I had to read it. I added it when you posted a little blurb about it. I agree that the cover is glorious, and I just love those books with beautiful writing best enjoyed at a slow, savoring speed.

    Also, reminds you of Rosalind Brackenbury? I AM SO IN. I completely loved Becoming George Sand!

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    1. Becoming George Sand was a DNF for me! Should I give it a try again? I looooooooooooathed the woman from the first page. But the writing styles felt similar to me.

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  12. The cover is gorgeous and I loved that there is all the "bonus" material that is centered around the book. The story sounds and the characters sound very complex.

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  13. I have this one from NetGalley and need to get to it. It sounds divine.

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  14. It took me SO long to start this, even the paperback edition was already out, and once I finally opened it I raced through it, too.

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