What do we have to give up to be whom we yearn to be? O’Hara’s richly satisfying new novel grapples with small town limitations vs. big city sparkle, as well as the twists and turns in life that can either make or derail us. What makes the story all the more engrossing is that it’s set against the eerie backdrop of 1930s Cascade, Mass., a town about to be flooded to make way for a reservoir.
Desdemona, a promising artist, lives in the tiny town of Cascade, and is fast-tracking her way to a career in New York City. But then her father dies, and with him, so do most of her dreams. He leaves her drowning in bills. Even worse, his beloved Shakespeare Theater, that was to have been her legacy, has been willed to one Asa Spaulding, a man with a colorless personality whom everyone thinks she should marry. And marry she does, because she wants the theater to survive, and what other recourse does a woman have? Married life is stifling, especially with a man like Asa, who doesn’t understand her or her desperate need to create art, who views humdrum Cascade as a paradise, and who pushes her to be a proper wife and give him a child. But Dez is anything but proper. She doesn’t want babies (“No babies means you can leave.”) She isn’t interested in socializing with the local women, (which will have dire ramifications later). She yearns for her father’s theater to be reopened and filled with her paintings and New York City summer people and she prefers the company of Jacob, a Jewish artist from New York. Bonded from the first hello, the two are soon igniting sparks, even as Asa’s suspicions are aroused, and anti-semitism begins to rear its ugly head.