By Maryanne O'Hara
PenguinApril 2013

Trade Paperback384 pages, $16.00, ISBN: 9780143123514
Subject: History / Art / Personal Challenges

  1. Dez married Asa because her father was ill and bankrupt. Were there any other options for a single woman in 1934? What about for Dez specifically? How does the theme of drowning play into the first pages and continue throughout the novel?
  2. This novel is set in the 1930s. How are world events at that time shaping the events in Cascade, both in tangible ways and in broader, less obvious ways?
  3. Dez’s attraction to Jacob is almost immediate. Why was it so easy for their relationship to grow, and how do her feelings evolve over the course of the book?
  4. Cascade is rich with interwoven themes—of history, women’s issues, art, literature, and Americana. Which of these topics interested you most and why?
  5. When Dez was young, she wanted to be a painter like Mary Cassatt, producing artwork of mothers and their children. Why did the idea of birthing, pregnancy, and motherhood become negative for her? Do you agree with her perspective?
  6. When trouble comes to a head in Cascade, Asa and Dez make a deal. How did you feel about this deal? Did Dez’s decisions make you uncomfortable? Why?
  7. In New York, Dez is finally exposed to the bohemian world of artists she’s dreamed of. In what ways does it meet her expectations and in what ways is she disappointed by it?
  8. Why was it important for Dez to use the pseudonym D. H. Spaulding on her important artwork? What other women in history have done (and are still doing) this? Would you have read Cascade differently if the cover had not been so beautiful, adorned with a woman’s head, and if the author’s name had been M. B. O’Hara?
  9. Dez’s father promised that Portia’s casket held something “infinitely worth saving.” Discuss the contents and how human judgment is often flawed. Did your feelings toward William Hart change at the end of the book? How do you think Dez felt?
  10. At its heart, Cascade examines “what is a right choice?” and “who decides what that right choice is?” Discuss.