During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made
Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.
It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart 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, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?
At first she assumed he was a hobo. They sometimes hopped off the trains and mooched around town for food. The man on the porch had that same hungry look, but he was clean-shaven, wore a pressed gray suit, and carried a large satchel. A jalopy Dez hadn't seen for months sat in the driveway behind him: black with big fenders and bug-eye headlights, faded gold lettering on the door: Sid Solomon Wares.
Dez remembered hearing Ethel Bentonford in the Handy Grocery, back in September, clucking her tongue. Did you hear the old Jew-man died? He was a nice man, too. I miss the truck coming around. You get to depending on them.
The man on the porch introduced himself as Jacob Solomon. He didn't wear the stovepipe hat his father used to wear, nor the little black skullcap beneath it, but a gray flannel Trilby that he removed and tucked under his arm when she said how sorry she was to hear about his father. He was slight and somewhat self-effacing, at first glance almost nondescript, a person you might describe by saying he had dark hair. But his eyes were keen and watchful as he took in first her face, and then her smock and paintbrush at the instant she realized her brush was about to drip. Then, a small commotion, laughter, cupping one hand under the other to rush back to her studio where he examined her canvas, a winter study of the buildings facing Cascade Common, at twilight.
'If you add a layer of gesso mixed with a little powdered charcoal,' he said, 'you'll get streaky, translucent shadows that will really suit what you're doing, I think.'
His advice was matter-of-fact, confident, and she turned to look more closely at him, to marvel, really, to see who in Cascade could possibly know such a thing. Then she remembered Sid, on his rounds, talking about an artist son. He is in New York. He is in Spain. He is in Germany with his mother's people now, painting who knows what. Great things, that I know. She hadn't paid too much attention to Mr. Solomon—so many people bombarded you with anecdotes about their sons and brothers when you told them you painted. But now she thought about it, she remembered he had also said that his son had taught art classes. In New York.
An hour went by like the wind, an hour that was a back and forth comparing of experiences—where they'd done their training, and with whom, and where they'd traveled. (After New York, it had been Spain, Amsterdam, then Germany for him; she had gone from Provincetown to Paris).
And then, in the kitchen, over a pot of coffee and some stale cigarettes Dez found in a drawer in Asa's desk—while her father napped, while the meringues slowly dried, while the kitchen developed a remarkable coziness it usually lacked—they argued about who was good and who was great. Great was Goya, Jacob said, no question. Goya was the only reason he'd gotten onto that crazy freight boat out of Brooklyn in the first place. ' Oh but they're so brutal!' That amused him. ' But don't you see why? He's conveying everything that's usually so interior, so under the surface. He's a genius at it. And his use of light—.' He paused, lost in thought. ' Well, you'd want to see them in person, of course, color plates can only convey so much.'
He drew deeply on his cigarette, held the smoke, then let it out with a troubled sigh. ' But who knows when any of us will see them again? Things were getting unpleasant all over Europe by the time I left.' He stubbed out the cigarette as Dez thought back on Paris—how close that beloved place was to the unrest they were starting to hear about. You hoped nothing would come of it all—men had surely had their fill of war after the last one. Still, there was that nagging sense of worry.
A thump on the ceiling brought them back to the kitchen, to the cups of coffee, drunk down to dregs, to the saucer Dez had set out as ashtray, gray with ash, Jacob's open satchel sitting by the chair. He had sales to make; she needed to get upstairs to tend to her father. But first, she thought, well, they had to arrange to meet again.
“CASCADE unfolds like a Shakespearean tragedy, with an ending you won’t see coming…The novel becomes something that you can’t take your eyes from or stop thinking about in wonder.”—Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe
“Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires, but in O’Hara’s skilled hands the struggle feels fresh and new.” —People
“I stayed up very late into the night to finish Cascade, captivated by Dez Hart, a woman torn between competing loyalties: her marriage and her freedom, her sense of responsibility and her desire to live an artist’s fiercely disciplined and passionate life. Past and place come alive in this book; these characters are richly drawn and complexly human. Compelling and fascinating, the story unfolds in such unexpected ways, and with such gathering tension, that I couldn’t stop until I’d read the final, beautifully written, line.”—Kim Edwards, New York Times bestselling author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Lake of Dreams
“Maryanne O'Hara weaves as intricate, as theatrical, and as tempestuous a plot as deftly as Prospero. Through the eyes of an artist yearning for a larger life-canvas but constrained by a humdrum marriage in a town careening toward destruction, we see the failings of men and women in their tangled relationships, each member of the cast struggling to find a fulfilling life. Save the town! Save the Shakespearean theater! Save our dreams, we cry out with the players.”—Susan Vreeland, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Clara and Mr. Tiffany
“Maryanne O’Hara’s debut novel of a married woman suffocated by small-town America brings to mind Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. O’Hara’s story is engrossing and her prose luminous as she tells of a talented artist torn between ambition and conformity. Expect to hear more from this remarkable author.”—Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author of Prayers for Sale and True Sisters
“Yearning--for a choice, for a love, for a different future--suffuses Maryann O'Hara's atmospheric, accomplished, first novel, the sweeping story of a young woman's struggle to define herself in 1930s Massachusetts.”--Janice Y. K. Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Piano Teacher
“Set in the Great Depression, and tracing the struggle of one woman to make her own choices, Cascade is a rich and absorbing novel for our time. Maryanne O'Hara tells the rare story of a woman, not a man, fueled by ambition, who is prepared to sacrifice everything, including love, for her passion to create art.”—Lily King, author of Father of the Rain
“This is a magnificent literary achievement. The novel carries us with startling authenticity and emotionality as we follow a young woman trying to unfetter herself from the societal strictures of 1930s Massachusetts and liberate her artistic talents in New York City. Finely and expertly wrought, Cascade is absolutely riveting from start to finish.”—Don Lee, author of Country of Origin
“In Cascade Maryanne O'Hara has created a splendid heroine, Desdemona, who does not intend to follow her namesake's example, and a wonderfully intricate plot. Turning these pages, I felt utterly transported to 1930s Massachusetts; at the same time I was struck by how relevant Desdemona's choices still are. This is a lovely, intelligent and deeply satisfying novel.”—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street and Eva Moves the Furniture
“Maryanne O’Hara invites the reader into the life of a young artist, Desdemona Hart, whose sacrifice for love spawns a cascade of secrets that threatens not only to undo her, but also a town, a way of life, and the heritage her beloved father has left them all. Rich with painterly image and flickering with desire, Cascade explores how passion—for life, for love, for art—can determine destiny.”--Robin Oliveira, New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter
“When [Desdemona] falls in love with another man…and then a dead body turns up, the trouble escalates, and so will the rate at which you turn the pages.”—Slate
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