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Maryanne O’Hara – Cascade

Book Cover

When everything happens at once.

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 353
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-1431-2351-4
First Published: 16th August 2012
Date Reviewed: 21st May 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

In the 1930s Dez married Asa as life became difficult. When her father dies he leaves the family’s beloved playhouse to Asa, with the intent that its care be passed on to any children of the union. But the town, Cascade, is under threat by the state who need to create a reservoir for the health of residents of Boston, and Dez is unhappy with Asa as it is. She dreams of a career in art that will never happen in Cascade, and as Jacob continues to be a scant part of her life, she wonders about the possibilities for more.

Cascade is a complex novel; on the surface it is straight-forward, the story of an unsatisfied woman and the imminent demise of Cascade, but as it continues it becomes obvious that there is a lot more to it. Indeed it takes a long time to truly pick up the pace, appearing for a good while to be a somewhat laid-back story about an event that is surely horrific for those involved; the persistent reader will be well rewarded for continuing with it.

Because as much as the word ‘cascade’ refers to the town – its name and the literal cascades of water situated nearby – this book is also about the cascade of feelings, isolation, and hopelessness that happens when everything that borders on white lies and secrecy, explode at once. In Dez you have a character who is difficult to like in her entirety. There is an overwhelming sense of her being used by others, and of being unable to stretch her wings, yet there is also some true selfishness there at times. Most of what Dez chooses to do, the mistakes she makes, even the good choices, have understandable reasoning behind them, but a few do not.

This does not mean that Dez is not a good character, however. She is indecisive throughout the book, but as a character she is wonderful. O’Hara rarely takes the easy route – just as it seems you can predict what will happen, the events work in Dez’s favour (or not) but as much as O’Hara wants to help Dez, she doesn’t let her off every time. O’Hara’s narrative for Dez means that you get that real sense of worry as O’Hara makes her character go through the misfortunes of life, and Dez’s wishes are very modern, meaning that the reader can confidently root for her without worrying about feeling disconnected by the time period. In Dez, O’Hara has created reality. You could create a book group discussion out of Dez’s life, question whether O’Hara even liked the character.

This leads us to the book itself. Moving on from the slow start and quickening pace later on, Cascade is one of those magical works that pulls you in so much you don’t even realise you are reading. There is no fairytale, no wonderment, and yet the book itself is a wonder. The secondary characters are written just as truly as Dez. You get the harsh reality of Asa’s pain contrasted with what seems at times a violent nature, but throughout your time with him its obvious O’Hara is telling you to look deeper, to really see Asa, and not assign stereotypes or even the fact of his fictional nature on how you view him. O’Hara wants to make her people exist, and whilst this may be true of all authors, it is particularly obvious in Cascade.

Being that the book takes place during a time when personal freedom was becoming important, but that it is entrenched in tradition and a small town, there are a few moral questions up for debate. As discussed above, O’Hara doesn’t make it easy for her characters, and therefore no matter which side of the debate, or just the view, you might fall on, she makes it easy to feel comfortable with what is being discussed, opening conversation and successfully managing to not leave anyone out despite the fact that sooner or later her characters must of course make decisions.

Truly this is a book that is as much, if not more, about a person rather than a town. If you approach the book hoping that it will be full of protests and violence you will be disappointed. O’Hara’s aim with the town is to look at the process rather than the overall affect. Affect is reserved for the characters.

There is a lot about art in this book – Dez’s passion, the art world, descriptions of Dez’s paintings and the creation of them. Due to O’Hara’s fictionalisation and overall decisions regarding which story elements get page time, the art shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who isn’t as passionate as Dez. What may cause a problem, however, is the extent to which Anna Karenina is detailed. If you haven’t read the classic and don’t want it spoiled, you can easily skip Dez’s visit to the cinema without missing anything important to O’Hara’s book itself. Tolstoy’s book is used as a reference later on, but simply by knowing that Dez was interested in the film should be enough for you to understand these later references.

Cascade is a myriad of ideas and details, focused on one woman, but encompassing much more, just in smaller doses. It will delight anyone looking for a heroine who may not be strong but is successful, and will leave you thinking on its topics long after you’ve finished.

I received this book for review from Historical Virtual Fiction Author Tours.

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May 22, 2013, 2:48 pm

Yes yes and yes again :) I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one. So did I!

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

May 22, 2013, 5:34 pm

I can’t wait to read this one so I would LOVE to be part of the giveaway!!!!!!!

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

May 22, 2013, 5:34 pm

BTW my email is :)

Judie McDonald

May 22, 2013, 6:02 pm

I’d love to read this book.


May 23, 2013, 11:45 am

This one sounds lovely.

Audra (Unabridged Chick)

May 24, 2013, 4:36 pm

I loved this one for the complicated nature of the story — that O’Hara didn’t let anyone off easily. I’ve known artists who’ve had that yearning to create so strongly they seem inconsiderate or selfish, and O’Hara’s novel made me see how it can be just as painful and frustrating to stifle and ignore one’s yearnings…


May 24, 2013, 10:14 pm

This sounds like a true gem. I’m definitely interested in the art aspects of it and Dez as a complicated character. Please put my name in the hat for the draw!


May 25, 2013, 9:32 pm

I’ve heard good things about this book. I have it on my to-look-out for list. I’m glad you enjoyed it.


May 30, 2013, 6:26 pm

Oh, how I loved this story — one of my favorite books in ages. Dez is such a complicated character, but someone I absolutely came to love and appreciate for so many ways. The complicated feelings of love and the ties that bind made this a truly fantastic read — so glad you enjoyed it, too!


June 19, 2013, 10:27 am

Jennifer (Relentless Reader): :D

Rebecca: I think you’ll like it :)

Judie: It’s very good!

Jennifer (Books, Personally): It is!

Audra: Yes, my thoughts exactly. She developed the characters but never let the creations she obviously would have loved (as she wrote them) get away easily.

Anbolyn: The art aspects are well written. I’m not sure if O’Hara is an artist herself but her research and the blend of that and her characters is really well done. You were added :)

Jessica: Do keep a look out, it’s worth it. I don’t think it’s out in the UK (I was lucky to be included on the tour) but hopefully it will be at some point.

Meg: Yes, I think O’Hara’s handling of it actually makes Dez better than she is. If the author had made it easy I can’t help but think no one would have felt for her at all. Couldn’t help rooting for her even if she wasn’t being completely fair or honest.



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