What Survives from a Flooded Town: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

cover image of Cascade (Penguin edition)In Cascade, a memorable first novel by short story writer Maryanne O’Hara, a small town faces the loss of itself and its history for the sake of urban progress and the promise of cash from the state government, which wants to flood this part of western Massachusetts to make the Quabbin Reservoir to improve the supply of drinking water to Boston.

If the state decides on Cascade rather than the smaller town of Whistling Falls, all of Cascade’s homes and buildings need to be demolished or moved – including the Shakespearean theatre that had belonged to Desdemona (Dez) Hart’s father, which had seen famous actors and actresses stride its stage in 25 seasons of brilliant summer productions. Now it’s 1935 and the theatre has gone dark. The country is struggling out of the Great Depression, and her father – the founder and guiding light of the theatre – died suddenly, months before.

Daily, the newspapers publish photographs of men in bread lines and entire families fleeing storms in the Dust Bowl, so Dez knows she should count herself lucky to be married to Asa Spaulding, with his still-thriving drugstore business and nice house in Cascade. But she misses her art classes and her life in Boston – given up in haste after the stock market crash and her father’s near-bankruptcy – and has to watch her friend Abby head off without her to paint and live a cosmopolitan life in New York City, the life they had planned to start out on together. Dez’s own passion for painting hasn’t left her, but the only person in Cascade who she can talk to about it is Jacob, an artist (an art instructor!) who travels down to Cascade from New York on Thursdays to wind up his deceased father’s business there. Gossip begins soon enough about Jacob’s visits to Dez during the day, even though at first it’s just for long conversations about painting and painters.

The blurb from People on the cover of the softcover edition sums the book up nicely:

Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires.

Dez’s story is set in the 1930s but has a contemporary feel to it, as Dez wavers in indecision over the “right” thing to do – about her marriage, her art, her loyalty to her dead father, and her secret hope that the flooding of Cascade might set her free.

If you liked The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, especially for its main character’s moral dilemma and its insights into the meaning and value of works of art, you should also like Cascade. Both books are 2013 Massachusetts Must Reads.

O’Hara, Maryanne
April 30, 2013
9780143123514, soft.
368 pp.
$16.00 US, $17.00 CAN

August 12, 2012
9780670026029, hard.
$26.95 US

Disclosure: I received a free, signed copy of the softcover edition of this book at a library conference.

Other opinions of this book (all very good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
The Bluestocking Society
A Bookish Libraria
The Picky Girl
The Relentless Reader
Unabridged Chick
The Worm Hole


10 thoughts on “What Survives from a Flooded Town: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara”

  1. I enjoyed this one 🙂 And isn’t that cover AWESOME? I don’t know what it is but I could stare at it all day.

  2. I really liked how it’s difficult to love Dez but you can relate and feel to her all the same. A very good book with a difference. Your description of the list of reviews has reminded me I haven’t looked for a negative review yet (I like reading the opposite view).

  3. Thanks so much for this review of my book– Barbara and I have done/will be doing events together: 2 books/2 artists/2 moral dilemmas.

    Also, thanks to those of you who commented/read Cascade. I tell people I didn’t set out to create a flawed character, but I DID set out to create a human one, and that’s Dez. I like hearing about the vastly different ways people respond to her.

Would love to have you comment!