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August 22, 2012

Book Notes - Maryanne O'Hara "Cascade"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Maryanne O'Hara's debut novel Cascade is a complex, smart, and beautifully written work of historical fiction set in the Great Depression.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"O’Hara deftly combines several different themes into a cohesive novel about love, ambition, loyalty, and betrayal, with an ironic twist at the end."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Maryanne O'Hara's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Cascade:

"Gnossienne No. 1," by Erik Satie

Cascade opens in late winter, 1934. Dez Spaulding is a young artist who once enjoyed a privileged life, who had studied in Paris, but who has now sacrificed ambition to save her father. In an early scene, she is watching the first flakes of a snowfall: It was the kind of day that would turn to night without fanfare, with a gradual extinguishing of light. Satie resonates with her melancholy artist's psyche, with the painful/pleasant longing that a winter's twilight can provoke.

"Dans La Vie," performed by Stéphane Grappelli

Dez studied in Paris in the late 1920s. This piece exactly conveys her memories of Paris—wistful, yes, but mostly happy. Bubbly. Grappelli is often a little too manic for me, but Dans La Vie says: quiet, happy Paris memories.

"You Stepped Out of a Dream," sung by Sarah Vaughn

When I first started writing Jacob Solomon, I was listening to a compilation CD I'd once bought in Starbucks. To me, Vaughn's rendition, though recorded in 1960, conveys all the euphoria of Dez's attraction to Jacob, mixed with her frustrated ambitions and feelings of being trapped by circumstance.

"Temptation," sung by Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby sang this in the 1933 film Going Hollywood. It plays while Dez is trying her best to ‘be in love' with her husband, but the lyrics remind her of Jacob: You came, I was alone, I should have known; you were temptation. The rendition sounds so-over-the-top and corny to the modern ear, but you can imagine how the mood and lyrics would have fit the period.

"Time," by Pink Floyd

The passing of time is one of my obsessions, and I have never ever gotten tired of listening to Pink Floyd. If Dez had been around during the Pink Floyd era, this song would have spoken to her.

"I Can't Get Started," performed by Bunny Berigan

The radio is often playing in the background in the Spaulding house. This piece reminds me of the days Dez has trouble getting started at her easel and lets herself be distracted in that way that most creatives can relate to.

"The Very Thought of You," sung by Billie Holiday

Once things get more serious with Jacob, and Dez's postcard project is moving along, I imagine Dez listening to this popular song with optimism.

"It Ain't Necessarily So," performed by the Budapest Philharmonic

This rendition of Gershwin's classic, recorded with a quirky, added samba beat by the Budapest Philharmonic, ain't necessarily pure, but to me, it conveys Dez's mood when she's first in New York—excited, hopeful. It also conjures the time period, and the bustle that is eternally New York.

"Your Love Has Faded," performed by Johnny Hodges

This song mirrors Dez's disappointments yet at the same time, there's this quality to it—to so much of Billy Strayhorn's music—that taps into the reflection and solace that forms of art provide. Music like this—sexy songs of longing—convey New York and the unattainability of Jacob and the ideas Dez tries to express in her Shakespeare Series of paintings.

"The 'In' Crowd," performed by Ramsey Lewis

Dez attends an artist's party in Greenwich Village, where she starts out feeling apart and uncertain, and then lets herself get reckless. This is a 60s song but the vibe in the song is the vibe that I imagine this party is all about, a vibe that certainly existed in the 20s and 30s.

"Why," by Annie Lennox

This song reminds me of writing Cascade because whenever I heard it, I imagined Dez, full of those tormenting feelings of longing. If she had lived in a different time period, she would have played this song over and over while painting The Black Veil.

Music for the Theatre—part 5. Epilogue, by Aaron Copland

The epic, contemplative quality of this piece suits the ending of Cascade. I adore Aaron Copland.

Maryanne O'Hara and Cascade links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Boston Globe review
Publishers Weekly review
Reading the Past review

Boston Globe profile of the author
Radio Boston interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
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musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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