Maryanne O'Hara
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Buy *Cascade* by Maryanne O'Haraonline

Maryanne O'Hara
368 pages
August 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In a delicate mix of art and love, OíHaraís cautionary tale set in 1935 has the folks in the Massachusetts town of Cascade suffering the terrible effects of a country still in the throes of the Great Depression. While the blacker than normal headlines tell of storm clouds gathering in Europe, the land of OíHaraís heroine, Desdemona Hart, overflows with the concerns of those who travel from place to place in search of work, their destitution defined by a cruel sense of pragmatism.

Desdemonaís own dramas begin when her dying father urges her to marry drugstore owner Asa Spaulding in the hope that he can provide her with financial security while also preserving Cascade's age-old crumbling Shakespearean playhouse. With the theatre's deed gifted to him, Asa goes about his days, embodying a solid presence. A deeply traditional man, Asa can quite get past the notion that Desís heart is promised to Jacob Solomon, a fellow artist who comes into Cascade from time to time to help Des with her painting.

Des's best friend, Abby, also visits on the way to her new life in New York. A bustling bundle of energy, Abby acts as a confidante and an advice-giver, telling Des that she's taken a "wrong turn." She should cut her losses, escape from her stifling marriage, and come to New York so that the two of them can live like "real bohemians." Des is gradually being suffocated by Asa and by his demands for a child, forced to spend her waking hours plagued by bad dreams and nail-biting anxiety as she waits for proof that she has escaped pregnancy once again.

When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declares that Cascade will be flooded to provide the state with much-needed water, the announcement casts a gloomy spell, making even the best-kept structures surrounding the town common look bleak and impoverished. This is the reality of life in 1935. The buzz grows,  everyone saying a prayer--especially for generations of men like Asa, who view Cascade as their home and their land. Even a potential pictorial by Des, a series of detailed realistic colored drawings that will relay the history of the town to the world, will do little to stop the town's impending destruction.

As the fight to save Cascade unfolds and Desís sadness is made better by real intimacy with Jacob, OíHaraís compelling prose enlightens moments that are fragile and tragic. Viewed through shattered glimpses of history, Des is torn between the possibility of independence in New York and her betrayal of Asa. Weaving her pen over history, the author balances Desís internal and external dramas, using the flooding of Cascade to lift the story's more symbolic elements into Shakespearean grandeur, creating a tautly structured, deeply suspenseful tale that plays out in a town literally perched on the edge of destruction.

While Cascadeís imminent demise gives OíHaraís story historical authenticity, the tale is pretty much shaped by Asa, who married a woman but realizes that he made a bad choice, and Des as she learns to place trust in her feelings, sick in the knowledge that she has to take a risk if she wants to develop as an artist and as an independent spirit. Of course, nothing in life lasts and nothing stays the same. Resolve and contrition can turn eager and selfish. Desís desire for Jacob ebbs and flows as she tussles with the desire for decency and respectability of others, breaking promises while drowning in her vows to Asa.

A touching combination of struggle and great hope, the tempest within rises in a feverish intensity, hurling Des toward the smells, sounds and sidewalks of New York. A woman both complex and human, Des departs on the long, winding road toward independence, her journey a testament to her extraordinary spirit.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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