Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara — 384 pgs

Desdemona Hart Spaulding isn’t where she wants to be. As the wife of a pharmacist who runs his own shop during the late 1930s, Des and her husband are at a crossroads. He wants a wife that cooks, cleans, and bears him children, which is decidedly not what she wants. Des is an artist, and a very good one at that. But her paintings are not enough to hold on to when her husband becomes agitated with Des’ inability to get pregnant. Des has had the forbearance to make sure that never happens. When it becomes local news that the town of Cascade is in danger of being turned into a reservoir for the city of Boston, its little shops and homes flooded, Des dreams of relocating to New York to realize her dreams of being a famous artist. But soon, her friendship with another artist in the town becomes a scandal, and Des begins to make some very disturbing choices that will not only affect her marriage, but also the town where she has lived her entire life. While Des’ husband Asa moves in one direction, Des decides to go in another, forcing her to become not only duplicitous, but deceiving as well. In this pristinely written and very complex novel, the fate of a town and a marriage come down to the machinations of one woman who is desperate to be free, no matter the cost.

Reading this book was like looking at a watercolor painting, and I’m sure that this is what the author intended, as a large part of the narrative was given over to the nature and descriptions of art. This, to me, meant that large parts of the narrative had a soft and contemporary feel while still being set in the past and focusing almost exclusively on Des as an artist. Many of her works were explained in the book, and it was almost as if O’Hara had these paintings that Des was creating firmly fixed in her mind. The effect was one of blending art with a very complex and personal narrative, written with a mild yet somehow searing tone.

I really understood Des and her struggles. Because O’Hara gives so much attention to detail with her characters, there was little that wasn’t explained regarding her feelings of living a small town life, and an incompatible marriage. The choice to marry Asa was undoubtedly clear to the reader but the repercussions had a strangling effect on the entire community. Des, at times, may have been a little ethically challenged; however, I understood her and her wishes. It wasn’t her morality that was in question, but her desire and her unmitigated need to assert herself and attain the life that she knew she was meant for. Unfortunately, she caused a lot of collateral damage by doing these things.

The main thrust of this book were the themes of longing and self-actualization, blended within a framework of art, both on the canvas and in the theater. When I step back and see just what O’Hara was trying to communicate to the reader, I’m filled with a sense of bittersweet irony, because for one woman to go against the tide during this time period meant not only that this was a decidedly feminist novel, but also a novel that sought to explore the ways that the heart can be selfish and selfless at the same time.

I think those readers who enjoy character driven novels with a strong plot would love this book. It’s full of things to discuss and ponder, making it a great choice for book clubs, but it’s also one to read when you just want to curl up with a creative drama that’s gentle but firm. I’m sure that I’ll see more as I reflect further, just as O’Hara intends. A genuinely satisfying read that holds secrets, regrets, and unexpected joys. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

Andi said...

I looooove a good book incorporating art. I must must must read this!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've seen a few good reviews of this one. I can't say that I know much about art, but the book I have read about it, I've really enjoyed. I'm going to look into this one.

Suko said...

I love your comparison of this book to watercolor painting. I also enjoy character driven novels with solid plots. Very lovely review, Zibilee!

Maryanne OHara said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this lovely review of my book. It's wonderful when readers respond to the parts I hoped they would respond to. : )

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Doesn't sound like it is for me but I'm glad you enjoyed it! I do like books that make me reflect upon them afterwards.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I liked this one a lot and agree it's a great choice for book groups.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

You know I have been planning on reading this book based on the cover alone - and when I heard a little more about the story, I found it all the more intriguing.
I am so glad to see your awesome review of this one. I love books that incorporate art and this one seems to do it gorgeously. I also love when a book gives you a lot to think about; they are the one you want to discuss for days after, even with people who haven't read it.
I think this will soon have to make its way home! :)

Beth F said...

I love character-driven novels but I'm not quite sure the premise is for me.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

I'm reading this next and looking forward to it, yet to read a bad review. You seem to have a knack for choosing good books so yours is definitely quite the recommendation, even if I hadn't already planned to read it :)

Lisa said...

Love this -
"Reading this book was like looking at a watercolor painting"
I'm sold!

Marg said...

I am going to be reading this soon. I am really looking forward to it.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Looks like one to keep you thinking; may have to check this one out when I get back into the flow of reading, blogging, etc., etc...

Audra said...

"...explore the ways that the heart can be selfish and selfless at the same time." YES -- that's exactly how I'd describe this book -- which made it, for me, so delicious -- I wanted to hug and shake Dez in equal part!

irisonbooks.com said...

I wonder if this is the book for me. On the one hand, it sounds really interesting: the blending of art and literature, of a larger social environment of a town and a micro one of a marriage, of a woman who negotiates the space to make her own choices.. but I wonder how it deals with the latter part. It seems that her choice for her own happiness somehow affects the town negatively? Does it do justice to her struggles and her right to choose her own life? It really depends on how those questions are explored, I think. From the latter part of your review I gather that it is really a very indepth exploration of these themes, so I'm guessing it strikes the right balance?

Anyway, another lovely review by you :)

Darlene said...

I really enjoyed the audio for this book and the story was great. I think it would make a great bookclub pick too. There's a lot to talk about for sure.

Marie said...

Sounds wonderful. I like the combo of character and plot!

Literary Feline said...

I've heard such good things about this book, and am glad you enjoyed it so much. It's definitely one I hope to read at some point.

Vasilly said...

Hey Heather! I hope everything's going well for you. :-)

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