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)
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.