It’s the height of the Great Depression in Cascade, Massachusetts. Desdemona Hart’s aging father has lost everything but his treasured, now-shuttered Shakespeare Theatre. To put a roof over his head, Dez marries Asa Spaulding, the local pharmacist. Just out of art school, Dez must put aside her dreams of working in New York City and become a supportive wife, daughter, and—if Asa has his way—mother. When her father dies just two months later and deeds the playhouse to Asa, Dez realizes the extent of her mistake. She’s staring down a lifetime with a man she respects but doesn’t love, yet she can’t leave him without abandoning her father’s legacy.
At the same time, their valley hometown is under threat by the state government, which wants to build a new reservoir to serve Boston. If the surveyors choose Cascade, they will flood the entire area, destroy the beloved playhouse, and force a mass relocation of all of its residents.
Amid this turmoil, Dez meets Jacob Solomon, a Jewish artist to whom she immediately feels a connection. To most of the town, he’s an outsider who elicits anti-Semitic feelings, but for Dez he represents the creative, cosmopolitan world that should have been hers. As their relationship grows, Jacob inspires her to renew her artistic dreams while igniting a romantic passion that alarms her. As the decision about Cascade’s future looms, Dez must weigh her own desires against her husband’s—and society’s—expectations.
A new opportunity comes when Dez’s idea for a series of drawings about Cascade’s fight for survival is picked up by the national American Sunday Standard magazine, and she suddenly becomes a household name. New York City and a life with Jacob seem more possible than ever—until a man is found dead, and Jacob is suspected of foul play. As in her father’s Shakespearean productions, Dez’s choices might have tragic consequences.
Vividly drawn and rich in historical detail, Maryanne O’Hara’s debut novel is a pitch-perfect rendering of life in small-town America in the tumultuous early twentieth century. In Desdemona Hart she has created an unforgettable character whose difficult choices and yearnings for independence will resonate with readers of any era.