Cascade book discussion

cascadeOur evening book group meets on the first Monday of every month – here is a roundup of what we recently discussed. Check it out and consider joining us next month when we read Euphoria by Lily King.

Thanks to everyone who was able to make the book discussion on January 4th, for Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. Becky was unable to make the meeting, so I filled in as guest host, and it was a pleasure to be there.

In general, people liked the book ok, but several mentioned that they were interested in hearing more about Dez’s life in New York, but less about her art. Many didn’t care for the main character, Dez, or thought she was wishy-washy, and didn’t get angry enough when her father willed the theatre to Asa (or when her friend took the job she wanted.) We felt a little sorry for her, given that her only real choice at the time was to marry Asa to provide for her father. By not selling the Folio, and hiding it instead, her father manipulated her into the life he believed she should have, as a wife and mother. She, however, didn’t want children, since they would interfere with her painting. She was ahead of her time to want a life other than the one her small town society dictated for her.

When Jacob appeared, she was immediately attracted to him, and as they discussed art and more, she developed a fantasy of what life could be with someone who understood art and understood her. She seemed oblivious that his being Jewish would make a life together unlikely, even if Jews weren’t discriminated against to the degree they were at the time. For example, remember how quickly the town turned on Jacob after the two deaths. By exonerating Jacob, Dez opened Asa’s eyes to their illicit relationship and once again she was forced into a position with little choice for her – that of playing the dutiful, happy wife – appearance and reputation were more important to Asa than their marriage – in exchange for a chance to go to NY for a short time. She obviously didn’t see it as only a visit, as the first thing she did was rent an apartment, rather than a room at a hotel.

Once in NY though, things turned out pretty well for her. In fact, throughout the book, despite the choices she made and the ones made for her, things don’t ever get too bad for her (one book club member was just waiting for something bad to finally happen to Dez!) She finds work and someone to show her art and she becomes successful, despite it being set during the Depression. She wasn’t pregnant after all. Asa agreed to grant her a divorce, and several readers thought that it was only because Cascade was chosen to be flooded – he was able to start over without the scandal of the divorce over his head. She was a little too lucky for it to be realistic for some readers.

When she meets with Jacob again, years after his marriage, she finds out that he never really understood her, since he didn’t understand the message of her painting for him. But it doesn’t matter now since she was married to a wealthy art benefactor (but why does the author keep that fact hidden from the reader?) She was able to preserve her father’s theatre and even the loss of the folio wasn’t too hard to bear.

Several readers mentioned that they enjoyed the Shakespeare references in the story, but didn’t see Dez’s story as a tragedy. My sense of the book group’s take on Cascade is that it was a nice little book to read, but it doesn’t delve into the issues too deeply and doesn’t give rise to any strong opinions about it. It might have been more interesting if it focused more on her life in New York, and if she had been pregnant on her arrival there. The big mystery left was how Dez could carry Portia’s casket around for so long without opening it – that didn’t seem very realistic.

I don’t think many group members would go out of their way to recommend this title.

The documentary about the Quabbin Reservoir is called Under Quabbin .

Finally, Jason from the group sent along a link to an article about a Shakespeare First Folio that is going on tour for people to view. It won’t hit Massachusetts till May, but you might be able to see it in New Hampshire in April.