Cascade is Maryanne O’Hara‘s first novel. It does not, however, read like a first novel. This is a rather big and bold debut, confronting many of the themes that define the era between the two World Wars. The story of Cascade focuses on Dez, a woman born before her time. Due to the financial peril she and her father are put in during the the Great Depression she marries a man she does not love and seemingly foregoes a career as a painter. Running parallel to the quotidian concerns of Dez is the broader issue of the creation of a reservoir that would flood Cascade, her home town. In protest Dez paints a series of postcards depicting Cascade before and after the flood, which launch her into nation wide notoriety and present her with the opportunity to move to New York. All of this is set over the framework of a Shakespearean tragedy.
One of the most interesting facets of the novel for me was looking at how a town ceases to exist. Cascade, once a prosperous holiday destination, is hit hard by the Great Depression. With news of the impending reservoir, it literally ceases to exist. By the end of the novel the town has vanished under the rising waters of a lake and the inhabitants have scattered. How does one say good bye to a place that will cease to exist?
Who would like this book? I suspect that Cascade will become a big book club pick (maybe even a Heather’s pick), and it would certainly be a good choice. There is a lot to talk about in Cascade. Certainly, for one more versed in Shakespeare than I, I think the parallels would be worthy of much discussion. Most of my knowledge of Shakespeare comes from high school and seeing some of his big plays, but even with those fragments I detect that something much bigger was going on. Cascade will also appeal to those interested in issues of equality in the period between the two world wars. First, there is the issue of women’s rights: the politics of working outside the home and what it means to eschew a traditional marriage. Second, there is also the plight of Jews in a world that is becoming increasingly antisemitic.
Due to the focus on water, Cascade reminded me of The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. The human endeavor to try to control such a powerful force of nature, namely water, is fascinating (and perhaps foolhardy). And yet, time and time again we try to change the course of nature, with consequences that may not be realized for decades to come.