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A novel of art and desire in the 1930s

What would you give up to become the person you knew you were meant to be?

It’s 1935, and Dez Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, an especially difficult feat since the town faces almost certain flooding to create a reservoir. When she falls for fellow artist and kindred spirit Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape with him and realize her New York ambitions, but her decisions will have bitter and unexpected consequences.

Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will savor this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set in New York City and New England during the uncertain, tumultuous 1930s.

353 pages, Hardcover

First published August 16, 2012

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About the author

Maryanne O'Hara

3 books103 followers
Author, grieving mother, quotidian philosopher, optimist ✨

LITTLE MATCHES, A Memoir of Grief and Light, published by HarperOne Books, is now on sale.

It is a People Magazine Book of the Week and my story has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Psychology Today, Kirkus, and TIME Magazine.

LITTLE MATCHES is inspired by 9LivesNotes.com, a blog that I kept while my daughter Caitlin was waiting for a lung transplant. Since Caitlin’s passing, I have also been certified by the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine as an end-of-life doula, so that I may better speak to the state of end-of-life care in our culture.

I am also the author of the novel CASCADE, which was the Boston Globe Book Club’s inaugural pick and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award, and a story collection which was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. I am the former associate fiction editor of the literary journal Ploughshares, and I've taught creative writing at Emerson College and Clark University.

Begin to read/watch book trailer/more at https://linktr.ee/maryanneohara

Thank you.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 351 reviews
Profile Image for Lara Kleinschroth.
88 reviews7 followers
June 28, 2012
What drives the artist -- a need to leave something behind, something preserved of one's self, or simply for the fame and fortune in the here and now? Art lives long after the artist has passed on. The central theme to this extraordinary book is expressed by the main character, Desdemona Hart Spaulding: 'We people take up space, and then when we're gone, there's just the space left, and sometimes you can't quite comprehend how that can happen.' This is illustrated on a grand scale, with the flooding of the town of Cascade Massachusetts to create a reservoir for Boston. How does an entire town simply cease to exist? Who will remember -- the river, the library, movie theater, round church, diner, and playhouse, not to mention the people?
Set against the backdrop of 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression and with rumblings of disturbing news from Europe, Cascade explores one woman's search for identity and lasting permanence. Her father has died, her marriage is not ideal, and her town is about to be flooded and obliterated. She has nightmares of drowning, and creates paintings from the point of view of a drowning man's last sight, looking up out of the water. She thinks she finds her answer in a Jewish travelling salesman, but he turns out to be as impermanent as everything else. Dez is an incredibly well-drawn character -- she is so flawed (she falls in love with a Jewish man, but knows nothing of his religion or culture, and makes no attempts to find out), and some of her decisions (or accidental stumblings) start a chain reaction of unravellings you don't think she'll be able to get out of. But she is strong and tenacious.
So many themes and images weave and overlap, yet it never gets messy -- O'Hara ties everything together very neatly. Images of water are everywhere, Shakespeare lives among the pages, and all of it is expressed in Dez's art. And simmering beneath the surface are the brutal realities of the Great Depression and the strengthening of Hitler's power.
Dez eventually learns that there is no permanence, that the only constant is change: '...trying to hold on to things was uncertain. You lost control when you died. You had no idea whether what you cared about would go into a museum or into a rubbish bin.'
For a fascinating trailer of this book (I know! A book trailer -- how awesome is that??), check out the author's website at maryanneohara.com
Profile Image for Suzanne.
174 reviews
April 8, 2013
I believe this is tied with Tell the Wolves I'm Home for my favorite book of the year. I can't say enough about it, beautifully written, meaningful and enjoyable. An incredibly moving story, heartbreaking and, ultimately uplifting. I just can't recommend this enough. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Ionia.
1,430 reviews66 followers
April 16, 2013
To be very honest, When I began reading this novel, I was actually rather bored. The first chapter certainly didn't grab me and thrill me any and it was kind of slow plodding along for a while after that. I didn't dislike it at all and the writing is good, but there wasn't much excitement at first.

As the story progressed, I had trouble finding a character that I could identify with, but as time went on, I grew to like this book. The plot, although the pacing is slower,is interesting and unlike other books I have read. I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the town and the desires of the residents to fight the government that threatened to change life as they knew it.

While I wouldn't say this novel is for everyone, if you are the thoughtful type that enjoys pensive stories where you can put yourself in the place of the characters and examine how they feel, then you may just find out you love this book.

With me, my enjoyment of this book was eventual. By the end of reading it, I was happy that I had done so. I was about halfway through before I understood the point and began to settle in. The language is at times a bit formal and has a stiffer feel. I would call this more of a bare-bones type of book. The author does not waste page after page with extra description and the dialogue reflects this.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy literature that is on the outside of the mainstream. It's different than I expected, but that is also what made me like it in the end.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher.
Profile Image for Clifford.
Author 13 books329 followers
March 21, 2013
There is so much going on in this novel, it's hard to know where to begin to talk about it. It's about a woman who believes in her art and isn't willing to bow to the will of a man. It's about art and its power to communicate. It's about love, and how it doesn't always conquer all. It's about what endures--including Shakespeare. A very enjoyable read, with a protagonist--flawed though she is--you can cheer for.
Profile Image for Erika Robuck.
Author 11 books1,067 followers
September 20, 2012
In the Boston suburb of Cascade in 1935, Desdemona Hart Spaulding has put off her art career in New York to care for her dying father, and in the process, has married a steady local man to rest her father’s concerns about her own well being, and to resurrect the theater in town, to which her father has devoted his life.

When her father dies, not only has she realized the terrible error of her marriage, but she learns that the town of Cascade is in the running to be destroyed so that it can become a reservoir for Boston. Desdemona does not wish to hurt her husband, but her deepest desire is to have freedom from the marriage to pursue a career in art, and a relationship with a Jewish painter with whom she has fallen in love. As the town faces increasing pressure and the knowledge that its demise is imminent, Dez becomes entangled in a web of her own desires and mistakes that take on catastrophic consequences.

With its doomed lovers and condemned town, CASCADE, reads like the kind of Shakespearean drama that would have been performed on the wooden planks of Dez’s father’s theater. O’Hara does an admirable job portraying a woman conflicted about her choices, but unwilling to compromise on her dreams. I found myself wanting to physically hold Dez back or warn her from walking into bad decisions, but that is what made the novel so compelling. I was also satisfied with the denouement, when Desdemona reaches full maturity and demonstrates her growth.

O’Hara skillfully weaves Desdemona’s creative process through the emotional tapestry of the novel, and her prose is exquisite. This book is a perfect balance of literary fiction with a compelling plot, and would make an excellent book club selection. I can envision a lively debate about Dez’s choices with some siding with her or standing firmly against her. Dez is a complex heroine and one of the most real I’ve read in recent memory, and I won’t soon forget her.

Unlike the town, the novel CASCADE will be timeless because of O’Hara’s storytelling. I highlighted passage after passage of the beautiful language, and I want to reread the novel to hunt for the Shakespearean references I know are there. If you are a fan of historical fiction that deals with complex relationships and thematic layers, I recommend that you read this book. I give CASCADE my highest endorsement.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,651 followers
December 14, 2012
Cascade caught my attention when Aubra of Unabridged Chick wrote a glowing review of the novel. Of course, the incredibly gorgeous cover does not hurt either. My tastes do not align with Aubra's all of the time, but, when she raves about a novel, my interest perks. Thus, when I had the opportunity to get onto a tour for Cascade, I jumped for it. Though I did not get quite as swept up into the flow of Cascade, I did love its simple beauty and pitch perfect portrayal of the the time period.

Though set during the 1930s and 1940s, Cascade does not focus on the more traditional subject matter of the Great Depression or WWII. Both affect Desdemona's life, but only indirectly. The foundation of the book focuses on Desdemona's relationship with her father and his Shakespearean theater. Their relationship was a close one, and she would do anything for him, even sacrifice her own quality of life. When the theater had to close due to monetary concerns in the economic downturn, Desdemona wed a persistent, fairly well-off suitor, Asa Spaulding, so that she and her father could have somewhere to live without having to sell the theater. Her father passes not long after, asking Desdemona to swear that she will reopen the theater.

While the business with the theater frames the plot, the real crux of the matter is Desdemona's desires and the way they contrast with society's expectations for her. Her husband expects her to birth his children and iron his shirts. Her dad has made her promise to put the theater first, and,unfortunately, has given it legally to Asa as a dowry of sorts, tying her to his fate. What Des really wants is to live by her art, and to do so with Jacob, a fellow artist. Though Asa is a nice man, he and Des do not share interests or dreams.

Love triangles and infidelity are not plot lines that I generally prefer, but Maryanne O'Hara parallels Desdemona's romantic life with her professional life. She cannot be everything at once or please everyone. To be an independent woman in that era, a woman had to make certain sacrifices. Though Des didn't always make what I deem the right choices, she does take responsibility for her own life. She does not mope or live regretfully; she tries, even when she knows she probably shouldn't.

O'Hara's depictions of both the small town of Cascade and the city of New York shine with authenticity. Even the pace of the story matches the different settings, with the parts of the book set in Cascade flowing by slowly and calmly, while New York passes by in a swift, almost confusing blur. More details in the New York section might have left me a bit more satisfied with the way the novel ended, but, from a compositional standpoint, it is brilliant.

While beautifully done, Cascade is a slow read. The pages did not fly by, particularly towards the beginning. If you like a fast pace, you will likely struggle. Once Des began to spread her metaphorical wings and stop living in the shadow of society's expectations, the novel really picked up speed. The focus here lies more on mood, setting, art than on any sort of action.

Cascade will delight readers who appreciate lush writing and atmosphere. Though slow, Cascade certainly is worth pushing through for those who appreciate historical fiction with a unique viewpoint.
Profile Image for Melissa Crytzer Fry.
319 reviews347 followers
July 21, 2013
This is, by far, one of my favorite books this year. What a fabulous debut from Maryanne O’Hara. What’s not to love? I was immediately hooked by the first lyrical sentences, the Shakespearean references and parallels, the 1930s historical backdrop of the Depression, WWII, the Dust Bowl – events ripe with tension and conflict. And, of course, I was pulled in by the central thread of this fictional tale: a town is threatened to be flooded and turned into a reservoir to make way for the water needs of a growing Boston (based on the true story of Quabbin reservoir in the late ‘30s).

Themes and images of drowning – the possibility of the physical drowning of a town and the metaphorical drowning of Dez, an artist who struggles to conform to society’s mold – are so well done; I just can’t say enough.

This is a story of a woman struggling with her own wants and desires, set against the conflicting desire to honor her father and the town she loved. It’s a story that draws moral questions about allegiance to self versus community, but it’s also part love story, a tale of despair and hope, an illumination of political manipulation in the ‘30s, a study of the budding art community in the United States, a portrait of bigotry, gender bias and anti-Semitism.

The characters’ actions – and their often-faulty decisions – ebb and flow like the water coursing through the river along the town of Cascade, sometimes crashing and churning to impossible outcomes. The pacing of this story is simply incredible. Layered with their own secrets and deception, the characters are faced with personal and public moral decisions that make this an unforgettable read.

This is the perfect book club choice, because of the depth of conversation it elicits. I highly recommend CASCADE to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, historical fiction, and just a plain “unputdownable” story.

In the end, I think CASCADE is about leaving our mark in the world. What is permanence, the book asks? “We people take up space and then when we’re gone, there’s just space left.” But it’s also a story about finding contentedness in life ...
Profile Image for Christine.
183 reviews250 followers
November 12, 2012

This was a First Reads win, and I am so grateful to have won it. 'Cascade' certainly provides a lot to think about, and is one of the rare books that inspires me to dig into the real life events behind the fiction.

There are so many plots and themes seamlessly woven into a beautiful narrative. The obliteration of a town to create a reservoir. A marriage of convenience with a man who doesn't understand you, then passion and adultery with a man who does. Small town dissatisfaction, big city disillusionment. The role of art, the place of women, fate and free will. Even Shakespeare and the First Folio are important plot lines!

I brought the book with me to China, where I'm temporarily based, and I couldn't help relating what I was reading to Chinese contexts. The vivid, eerie depiction of the flooding of Cascade got me thinking of what has been lost to the Three Gorges Dam project, how so many people and so much history could be relocated and buried under water. The main character's struggles between duty and passion mirror those of many Chinese women today, who still marry the stable man who is best for the family (like Dez does when she marries Asa in the novel) instead of choosing partners based on passion (what Dez shares with Jacob).

Thus, this is historical fiction strongly anchored to a specific time and place, and yet so well-written that it was universal to me. You see so much through Dez's eyes, and live everything through her, but thanks to the author's great choice of third person past tense narration, Dez, for all her human flaws, never becomes an annoying or unsympathetic voice.
July 22, 2012
First of all, before I tell you how much I like this book, I would like to thank Penguin Group for giving me an advance copy of this great book. It is always nice to get a free book!

I really enjoyed this book. Maybe because I related so much to the main character, Dez. Her life and ambitions are so similar to mine and deep down; I wish that my future will be similar to hers. The characters were real and likable and sometime not so much. The author portrayed the time period very well and overall the book was believable.

The descriptions of Dez's paintings were vivid and made me want to see them in person if this would have been possible. Some parts of the book were a bit long and some side stories a bit derailing. But beside that, it was a great read.
Profile Image for Terri.
Author 24 books223 followers
August 19, 2012
It's been awhile since I've enjoyed a novel as much as this one. I found it difficult to put down and read it in two days. The story itself has so much...history, fiction based on some fact, a love story, thought-provoking issues and a wonderful plot so beautifully written.

The main character is an artist, but I loved how O'Hara wrote in such a way that many of the things she said could also be attributed to writers or any of the arts. Her writing is so vivid I was immediately immersed in the town of Cascade in the 1930's and swept along in Dez's life as a woman trying to figure out what, exactly, that life was supposed to hold for her.

This is one of those novels that will stay with me long after I finished that final page and I highly recommend this one.
1 review
September 14, 2012
Such an addictive book! I could not put it down until I was finished. It's so fun to hop into the life of someone during the 30's and learn what it was like. A beautiful love story between a woman and her art, family, and passions. It's perfect for anyone to read, young or old, male or female. Beautifully written!
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 4 books162 followers
August 11, 2012
So many stellar debut historical novels out this August! This is another. Review forthcoming.
Profile Image for Meg.
426 reviews94 followers
May 13, 2013
Sometimes books speak to us -- uniquely, exclusively. The elements of a particular story combine to seem formed just for you . . . and so it was with Maryanne O'Hara's Cascade. I should preface my review by acknowledging my deep, overwhelming fear of water. Of drowning. Of being pulled under. The idea of an entire town being purposely dismantled and flooded to form a reservoir -- of a place that once existed but has since been razed, morphed into a lake -- is both fascinating and horrifying.

Reading Cascade was such a lush, complicated experience. Of the many elements happening in one 350-page book, the connection brewing between Dez and Jacob captivated me completely. My heart literally ached reading about their friendship, however brief, and the story's progression found me desperately hoping for something I knew could never be. Without giving anything way, I felt splintered by the novel's close. Just splintered. Gut-punched.

And that's the mark of a great story.

And this was a wholly unique tale. One with which I sympathized, and empathized, and became completely swept inside. Between its mirroring of Shakespearean classics and historical tidbits of life just before Pearl Harbor, O'Hara does a masterful job of portraying a town facing imminent destruction just as millions face a gruesome end in Europe. The distrust of the Jewish population -- and of Jacob -- was devastating, and made me thankful for the intervening years since World War II.

Just as interesting was the art scene -- a vivid world portrayed through Dez's work and connections. New York seemed a wholly familiar and unfamiliar place through O'Hara's pen: a world I know but do not know. I loved the descriptions of Dez's paintings and plans, and the light-filled studio rooms in which she would recreate safe spaces. It was romantic and lovely. And the overarching theme -- "nothing gold can stay," if you will, or nothing and no one lasts forever -- made me sad and reflective but ultimately . . . hopeful? Yes. Hopeful.

There's so much I want to talk about, but so much I cannot talk about. This is a story you need to experience and devour yourself. Though it took me 80 pages or so to become fully invested in Cascade's future, I feel changed as a reader for having read this book. It was magnificent. There aren't too many novels I'd herald as "a triumph," the hyperbole of that making me squint, but seriously: Cascade is phenomenal. It touched me. It made me cry. It broke my heart. It raised so many questions.

I absolutely loved it, and it's time to discover it for yourself.
Profile Image for Sheila DeChantal.
632 reviews71 followers
December 29, 2012
What would you be willing to sacrifice to be who you want to be?

When Desdemona was at the peak of her breakthrough as an artist in 1935, she made a hasty decision to marry Asa Spaulding, a solid and stable man, and make a home in the town of Cascade to be there for her bankrupt father whose health is quickly failing. While Desdemona felt in her head this was the right decision for the circumstances, her heart strongly disagreed.

And who's head has not been overrun by their hearts wants?

With Cascade being considered to be flooded to provide water for Boston, Desdemona is even more restless with her decisions. When she becomes attracted to a fellow artist Jacob who provides her with everything her husband can not, she knows it is time to make the hard choices that hopefully can correct the wrong ones she made in her past.

But at what cost? Is it possible to turn away from a choice without causing further damage? And even as she contemplates a brighter future, would she be able to live with herself for doing so?

First. Let's take a pause for this beautiful cover. Cover love at its finest, cover alone would cause me to pick up this book wanting to know more, and honestly... it did factor in on my choice to read this book.

While set against the backdrop of the Depression and WWII, Cascade (thankfully) focuses more around Desdemona and her relationships with the men in her life and the decisions she must make. While beautifully written, Cascade is not for the person looking for a quick read. It takes times to absorb this slower paced detail oriented book. You really get the feeling you are brought fully into the world that is Cascade.

For me, the book was good but the slower pace was a deterrent. Perhaps it was the time of year that I chose to read this that made it more of a struggle for me. Desdemona is not the most likable character, her choices... well, if you read it you will see. Cascade, in my opinion, is a book to take your time with, to read over several sittings and contemplate what would you do put in a similar situation?

Well written, filled with historical facts that will make you think and learn, and those are always pluses for me.
Profile Image for Historical Fiction.
920 reviews589 followers
May 2, 2013
Giveaway Opportunity May 2 - May 12: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

Find the enhanced version of this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

Depression era lit is not my usual stomping ground, but the minute I read the description of Maryanne O'Hara's Cascade, I knew I'd have to read the book. I'd been raised on stories like this, anecdotes of my grandfather's ranch being flooded to promote economic growth in the Missouri River Valley, whole communities just slipping beneath the waves as if they'd never existed. I found the idea that such an instance had inspired O'Hara to write a book absolutely fascinating and couldn't wait to see how it played into Desdemona's story.

At it's heart, this is a story of self-discovery, again, not my usual thing, but I loved how it played out against the creation of Rappahannock. There is a beautiful symmetry between Desdemona's personal tribulations and the fate of her beloved town, her deep seated ambition to leave a mark on the world against acceptance that change is unavoidable and permanence is an illusion of the mind.

Historically I have to give O'Hara points for highlighting both the plight of women in the 1930s and the Federal Arts Project. Early in the book, O'Hara makes it clear that Dez wants something bigger than the life of a pharmacist's wife with a house full of children. She wants a career, to embrace her work and to be involved in the dramatic shift taking place in the art world as new ideas become reality under the New Deal Work Progress Administration. As stated, Depression era lit is not my cuppa tea, but O'Hara managed to put together something very special simply by choosing to express Dez's emotional journey through the context of her artwork.

Stirringly poignant, Cascade is an elegant story of one woman's struggle to find herself amid divided loyalties and passionate desire.
Profile Image for Laura de Leon.
1,070 reviews28 followers
December 19, 2012
Cascade is an interesting, well-told look at the life of a woman artist from 1934-1947. It's a glimpse into America of that era, a nation that is changing in many ways.

It is about a small town, and the need to escape that life. It's about big choices, and the big choices other people make, and the ones you think you can change, and the ones you have no influence over.

It is about all kinds of people. The main thing they have in common is that they have strengths and they have flaws. All were interesting and real, although Dez's husband Asa was a little too close to a stereotypical man of his time. Most of the others went outside that mold in ways good and bad.

This book was suggested to me as a romance, but I don't think that's where I'd put it. This is historical fiction, and the story of a woman. Her life is shaped by love, although I'd say that love for her father is an even stronger force than the romantic love she also deals with for part of the book.

The other thing that I didn't expect coming into this book was the look into what it means to be an artist. Getting Dez's way of seeing the world, seeing what she saw as the difference between her commercial work and her "real" work, and seeing some of how the art scene functioned, all of these were interesting to me.

This was a book that kept me reading, more for the people and places than plot, but I really wanted to know more, so overall, I'd call the book a success.
Profile Image for Lorca Damon.
Author 12 books41 followers
October 27, 2012
It’s my job to read a book with every intention of picking it apart, word by word, professionally tossing around compliments or disdain. But with Maryanne O’Hara’s novel Cascade (Viking), I was so drawn in by the best storytelling I’ve found in a long time that I forgot it was my job to review it. I was simply too wrapped up in enjoying it.

Desdemona Hart used to be a promising young artist who even made it so far as to study in Paris. She gave up her art to take care of her sick father and to take the safe route into a merely amicable marriage to a man who wants nothing more than a house filled with children. Hart’s father is not only dying at the beginning of the book, he has also lost everything, including his First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, to pay off the bill collectors. All that he has left is a shuttered playhouse, once a famous crown jewel of Elizabethan performance but now in harm’s way as the powers that be decide whether or not to reroute a river to create a reservoir.

While the romantic element is sometimes forced, the true romance in the story isn’t between a man and a woman or a girl and her father; it’s between a young woman who has made difficult sacrifices and her art, between nostalgia and progress, and between ideals and a town.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
124 reviews8 followers
February 14, 2013
I really enjoyed this one! It's a quiet book that packs a wallop...giving the reader a lot to think about, during and after reading. I can't discuss the themes explored in the book without revealing spoilers, but I know I will be thinking about this book for a long while. It's not a book to read when you are anticipating a quick, entertaining read but one you want to slow down and savor. It won't satisfy readers looking for a fast-paced novel filled with action, but if you want to take the time to read a well-crafted story that will get under your skin and stay with you long after reading it, this one's for you! Give it a little extra time in the beginning, you won't realize at first that the book is bewitching you--the themes, the reading experience all start off slowly, gradually and then build up strength--sort of like the flow of a river. Suddenly I found I couldn't put it down and/or wait to get back to it. I hope the author has a long and prolific career ahead of her! This would be a great book for book club discussions.
1,845 reviews
December 30, 2012
i found this book outside my gate yesterday which was good timing as i had run out of library books and they are closed until jan 2. i didnt even know i won!

it takes place in 1935 and its a small town. the womans dad died leaving his playhouse theater which is falling apart and no longer open to her husband who she married so she could take care of her dad. she is a painter who doesnt seem very happy.

i dont think i would have continued reading this book if i had something else but im willing to give it a try longer

i dont like the relationship she is starting with some door to door salesman who is into her painting. i think her husband works in a pharmacy. i just started this book last night.

sorry, just couldnt 'get into this'. will pass it along to my mom who will pass it along to the battered womens shelter so it wont go to waste. thank you to who ever sent it to me anyway! it said something about penguin press on the paper in it...
Profile Image for Robert Thacker.
152 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2013
I have always been fascinated by the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir during the 1930s and the four small Massachusetts towns that were drowned under its rising waters. This book gives you the flavor of what it was like to live in one of those towns, and having to deal with both the Great Depression and the looming construction of the Reservoir.
Everything is seen through the eyes of a talented and artistic woman who embraces the turmoil of the time as an opportunity to find love and fulfillment, and to find a way to keep the promises she made to her father and herself.
Nicely written and well paced, this is old-fashioned storytelling, that works well with the historical setting. Several twists and turns keep things interesting, and in the end, the reader learns that even a life that seems so solid, so stable, and so permanent can disappear forever, like the vanished towns beneath the Quabbin.
Profile Image for Julie Rose.
Author 3 books156 followers
May 6, 2016
I really liked this book.

The worlds of rural Massachusetts and urban New York in the 1930s and 40s were convincingly rendered, and I loved that the action revolved around not a famous personage, but regular people being impacted by a terrible event. I'm also a total sucker for stories about artists, and stories about the impact of place on people and their psyches, so this was right in my wheelhouse, as they say.

Dez is a wonderful character; I can't say that I always liked her or agreed with her choices, but she was frustratingly real (in a good way). O'Hara's comments on Dez's process and the passage of time were particularly insightful.

There were some really lovely turns of phrase, and it was very compelling reading--I kept needing to read "just one more chapter!" and stayed up entirely too late finishing the book.

Profile Image for Bekah.
18 reviews
August 21, 2012
This story revolves around a young intelligent woman, Dez, who longs to be free to pursue her passion - art, creating, and having meaningful sustaining relationships. Her struggle is surrounded by her town's death sentence -- her rural Massachusetts town of Cascade is on the short list to be flooded, for it lies in a valley soon to be the reservoir and water supply for nearby Boston.

The story focuses on questions of what is art, what is lasting, what is real (or what should be real), and what is important. I loved this story...Maryanne O'Hara writes with a poetic quality. The characters are developed quickly and deeply. Through it all the beauty of the prose reveals a historical epic-ette (deeply epic in scope, intensely focused on the Depression era)setting sometimes forgotten to many people. This novel will stay with me always.
206 reviews7 followers
November 25, 2012
This is such a good setup for a story -- a community that finds out that its town is going to be destroyed by the government -- that the weakness of this book is even more of a disappointment than it might otherwise be. The characters, all of them, are either lifeless or repellent; the plot is boring when it isn't confusing; and the language, the language. No woman since the beginning of time has ever had the thought, "There is a good possibility I am not pregnant." I mean .... Huh? Also: "It was an isolating time, but like all bad times, it got better." Thud. Also: nobody who wishes to be taken seriously as a writer can use the phrase "When it came right down to it."
I did finish the book mostly because I couldn't believe that it wasn't going to get better.
Profile Image for Jessica McCann.
Author 4 books197 followers
August 23, 2013
This book is beautifully written and tells a unique story set in the Depression era. While the author makes occasional reference to the familiar soup lines, dust storms and joblessness that plagued the nation in the late 1920s and 1930s, the focus is primarily on how the drought and politics impacted Cascade, a small farming community in Massachusetts, and a woman consumed with saving her father's Shakespearean theater there. The author's attention to detail about the period places the reader in the scene, without being overdone. The ending, though not surprising, was satisfying.
Profile Image for Leslie Mcgilberry.
78 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2012
So many ideas are expertly crafted into one intriguing plot - infidelity, parent/child relationships, art, small towns, antisemitism, the Depression and a bizarre but apparently true story of an entire town flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. I didn't want to put this book down and thought about it for a long time after I finished it.
Profile Image for Clayton Cheever.
86 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2013
This is the best book I've read in a while. Lots of themes to engage with and all treated with great care and respect. Recommended for readers who like strong women and considerations of what in our lives is meaningful and persistent. Great grounding in place as well, while very accessible to outsiders.
Profile Image for Erin.
11 reviews
December 11, 2012
Loved, loved this story. I related so well with the main character Desdemona. While the main story is set around saving her home town of Cascade, there's also mystery, intrigue and even better it's about a woman finding the strength and courage to break out of the box of societal norm.
Profile Image for Sheila.
136 reviews
January 28, 2013
This was surprisingly great. Very evocative of time and place, small town in Massachusetts during Great Depression and a young woman artist who dreams of bigger things than her marriage and life. Loved it.
Profile Image for Helene.
108 reviews4 followers
October 27, 2013

Interesting look at a woman's life and cultural expectations in rural Massachusetts in the 1930's. It took me some time to get interested in the novel. I'm glad I continued because I became totally involved in the characters and plot. 3 1/2 - 4 stars.
Profile Image for Laima.
207 reviews
Want to read
June 15, 2012
I won this book on GoodReads as a FirstReads giveaway! Review upon completion.
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