Maryanne O’Hara is a new author to me. I came across her book titled Cascade during a late winter foraging trip to my little public library. What I found in this book was a story of a marriage of convenience that unravels as a small town grapples with its almost certain demise. The story of the destruction of the town is loosely-based on the Metropolitan Water District’s struggle in the 30’s to deal with Boston’s evermore demanding need for fresh clean public water. The result became a push to acquire lands in the central part of Massachusetts and the flooding of those lands that created the Quabbin Reservoir.
In O’Hara’s book the Quabbin becomes the Rappahanock and her fictitious town of Cascade is a compilation of several actual towns that were razed to create a massive reservoir for Boston’s need. Set against that backdrop, enter Desdemona Hart, a young artist and the daughter of one of the artistic forces within her hometown of Cascade. Desdemona is the child of actors and has received an arts education that includes being front and center in her father’s Shakespearean theater during her early years and going to college to receive a fine arts degree. She’s painted in Paris, won art awards at her college in Boston, and is producing new art at a pretty steady pace.
When her father becomes ill and the theater begins to fall into decline because of the Great Depression, Desdemona returns to Cascade to care for him. Finding the finances in horrid shape, she accepts the attentions of the local pharmacist. He’s a nice enough guy, but his dreams and goals are far from what Desdemona has envisioned for herself and her art. Setting her dreams aside for the sake of her father, she agrees to marry Asa Spaulding, move to his comfortable farmhouse on the edge of the village, and settle into the life of a hausfrau. One can only imagine the frustration, right?
When a young Jewish artist, the son of a local itinerant merchant comes to town, Desdemona makes an innocent connection over one of her canvasses. That relationship will have dramatic consequences for her marriage, her art, and the future of the town. She will find in her relationship with Jacob Solomon a muse and a romantic push to confront the poor marriage she’s made and the sad repression of her own strengths as a woman that needs to control her own destiny.
This was a great read … it’s about promises we make out of love that come back to haunt, prejudices that can taint our lives, roles in marriages that can stifle one’s true self if they’re allowed to, and strength to work through tough social norms and find one’s true place in the world.
I look forward to other titles from this author.