*This book was sent to me by the publisher Penguin in exchange for an honest review in coordination with Historical Fiction Virtual Author Tours.
In 1934, Cascade, Massachusetts holds tight to its vestiges of glamour. Once the place of a thriving Shakespearean theater where a young Rudolph Valentino graced the stage, the Crash has tarnished the appearance of the once-glitzy resort town.
Desdamona Hart Spaulding, the daughter of the theater’s owner, has left her dreams of a career in art and returned to care for her ailing and bankrupt father, marrying a local who has loved her for quite some time, Asa, in a move she quickly regrets. Once her father dies, Dez realizes just how provincial her life in Cascade will remain, particularly with the theater languishing and the town facing flooding to create a new reservoir.
When Jacob Solomon first appears on her property, commenting on Dez’s painting, Dez recognizes a kindred spirit, and her desire to be free takes over.
Charlie mentions in her review that the word “cascade” refers not only to the falls for which the town is named but also for the overwhelming emotion Dez experiences throughout the novel, and I think that’s apt. Jacob and his weekly meetings with her energize Dez. The two talk about art and artists, techniques and tools, the time flying by. She begins to romanticize their encounters until she obsesses over his visits.
Dez talks quite a bit about responsibility – her responsibility as a wife, a daughter, a citizen of Cascade – but ultimately, what wins out is her responsibility to her art. It’s a bold decision, as Dez leaves a good man, a man who cares for her, in order to pursue this life. O’Hara doesn’t help Dez either, making Asa out to be a hillbilly or a cad. Instead, he’s a stand-up guy and one that, even as you know it’s right for Dez to leave, you hurt for.
Though Jacob Solomon is ostensibly who Dez loves, I did feel that he’s just a means to an end. Dez wants to leave Asa and Cascade but cannot seem to leave just to paint and live in New York without something else propelling her forward. In fact, my one complaint would be that I wish Dez would have been able to acknowledge that. There was nothing to Jacob and Dez’s relationship that felt concrete or significant enough to have haunted her for as long as it does.
In some ways, Cascade reminded me of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub – the theater, the doting father, the failing marriage. Plus, both are interesting examinations of women who make nontraditional choices in order to forge a life for themselves.
Dez is selfish, but I think O’Hara explores the negative connotation of that word quite well. Dez sacrifices her marriage, her father’s legacy, and, though it isn’t all down to her, the fate of her town for her own gain. And if asked, I doubt she’d regret it.
Add this to your Goodreads shelf.