It is 1935, the country is in the chokehold of the Great Depression, and Desdemona Hart would do just about anything to help her father. William Hart, actor and owner of the Cascade Shakespeare Theater, is in failing health and close to bankruptcy. With her tuition unpaid, she must return home to Cascade, Massachusetts, leaving her budding career as an artist behind. She marries Asa Spaulding in order to provide stability and shelter for her father.
Desdemona appears to settle for a less-than-perfect marriage. She honestly cares for Asa, but his desire to start a family immediately makes her shudder, and so she secretly tracks her fertile ovulation days each morning. Even though William Hart adores his daughter, he reveals that he changed his will to make Asa the beneficiary of his theater. To make matters worse, legislation may pass to allow Cascade to be flooded to create a reservoir. Dez then meets Jacob Solomon, a talented artist who sparks an instantaneous allure that is almost too great to ignore.
Dez is a conflicted character who faces life-changing decisions. Her situation is complex, and her choices are anything but straightforward. Jacob Solomon is Jewish, and the reader becomes a witness to the hostile prejudice that often impinges on innocent lives. The author also deftly looks at the social norms of this time period. Women’s rights and expectations regarding marriage, divorce, children, birth control and property rights were vastly different 80 years ago.
Cascade is an insightful, sensitive, and important novel of our social history which reads with clarity and authenticity. Maryanne O’Hara shares the difficult, limited freedom and choices that women were raised to accept but which they frequently challenged.