Friday, September 4, 2009

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

That Old Cape Magic
by Richard Russo
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
261 pages

To borrow an expression from my kids, Richard Russo rocks! Back in 2002, I picked up a copy of Empire Falls and instantly became fan, recommending the book to anyone who would listen. Straight Man and Bridge of Sighs only reinforced that enthusiasm so, of course, I was at the bookstore within days (well, maybe hours) of That Old Cape Magic's release.

In his latest book, Russo treats us to some of the familiar themes and character types he has done so well in his previous books. Two weddings, a year apart, serve as the framework for That Old Cape Magic. Jack Griffin, a screenwriter/professor in his late 50's, is struggling to come to terms with his life, his marriage, and the role parental influence has played.

"Late middle age, he was coming to understand, was a time of life when everything was predictable and yet somehow you failed to see any of it coming."

Jack's Ivy-pedigreed parents spent their careers as frustrated professors, languishing at second-rate colleges in the Midwest. They lived for their annual summer escape to Cape Cod and found "That Old Cape Magic" was enough to sustain them for another year:
"After dinner, as darkness fell, they took a long drive with no particular destination in mind, as they sometimes did their last night on the Cape, breathing it all in, filling their lungs with the salt air, as if they could carry it back with them to breath in the Mid-fucking-west." (page 62)

Jack, as his own marriage begins to unravel, realizes that "even as he rejected their [his parents] values, he'd allowed many of their bedrock assumptions - that happiness is a place you could visit but never own, for instance - to burrow deep. He'd dismissed their snobbery and unearned sense of entitlement, but swallowed whole the rationale on which it had been based... Joy's [his wife] contention that his parents, not hers, were the true intruders on their marriage had seemed ludicrous on the face of it, but he saw now that it was true. They were mucking about still, his living mother, exiled in the Mid-fucking-west (justice, that) but using seagulls as surrogates, his deceased father, reduced to ashes and bits of bone, still refusing to take his leave." (page 158)

There is always a soft spot that develops in my heart as I read about Russo's flawed male characters. I spent one of the most enjoyable afternoons of the summer sitting in an Adirondack chair by the lake reading the first half of this book. My plan was to finish it the following day, but one weekend wasn't enough time to spend with Jack, Joy, their daughter, and parents. This was a book to be savored, and I slowed down to make it last several more days.

Russo get his characters right every time. Their vulnerability, tempered with just the right amount of bravado, makes them wonderfully believable and, flawed as they are, they manage to muddle through. That Old Cape Magic couldn't have been better!


  1. Wonderful review. I was sopleased you enjoyed it as much as I did.

  2. I haven't read Russo before, so this would be my first. I am putting it on my tbr list for 2010.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it! My mom is reading this now, and I'm hoping to borrow it when she's done.

  4. I haven't heard of him before either, it sounds great!

  5. Empire Falls is what hooked me on Russo, too! Now I have to read this one--thanks for the review. On the List it goes.

  6. I'm going to read Empire Falls first. Loved your review and you've inspired me to read this author!!

  7. Diane - I'm going to be reading some of Russo's early novels next year...hope I don't have to wait too long for another new one!

    BookPsmith - This was an excellent book, but Empire Falls may be an even better one to start with. I hope you enjoy Russo, too.

    Melissa - And I'll be taking this copy to my mother! Hope you enjoy it, too.

    Hmsgofita - Russo is a great storyteller! His novel Empire Falls was made into a movie or miniseries several years ago, too. I really should watch it one of these days.

    ds - I think Empire Falls was the novel lead many of us to Russo!

    Staci - Empire Falls is the perfect starting point. I hope you like it as much as I did!

  8. Joann - I just found out that all your comments at Books and Movies were being marked spam - for some reason, your web site url shows up as blogsot instead of blogspot - maybe cause you typed it in that way once, and it remembered? Anyway, I'm really sorry - I didn't know it was happening until now. I wasn't ignoring you, I promise!

  9. I am planning to read Empire Falls soon, but haven't read any Russo before. This sounds really good too. I think I'll have to keep an eye out for all books from this author.

  10. Carrie K - I wondered where the last few comments went! I guess my typing is even worse than I thought - lol! I'll be sure and fix it next time. Thanks for letting me know.

    Jackie (farmlanebooks) - Empire Falls will be the perfect introduction to Russo! I'm hoping to read a couple of his early novels this winter.

  11. I love Russo. I read Empire Falls and No Body's Fool, which were both great. I am looking forward to this even more now that I know I won't be disappointed.

  12. I'm going to treat myself to THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC once the dust has settled with the kids back to school.

    I loved his EMPIRE FALLS, and your review tells me I won't be disappointed with Russo's latest!

  13. Beth F. - Nobody's Fool will be my next Russo...maybe later this winter. You definitely won't be disappointed by That Old Cape Magic!

    Dawn - You deserve a back to school treat, too! A trip to the bookstore is definitely in order.

  14. I can't wait to read this. I am a huge fan of Richard Russo's. Have you read any Jenny Flynn Boylan - she is a coworker of his and long time best friend, also a great writer.

    Loved the pics from the art gallery as well. Great to come across your blog.

  15. therubycanary - Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! I'm not familiar with Jenny Flynn Boylan. Is there a title you recommend?

  16. Great review. I haven't had the chance to read any Russo yet, but your description of this book definitely makes me want to start. I love how you said you wanted to slow down and savor the book - I love that feeling. When a book is so good that you wish it didn't ever have to end.

  17. justicejenniferreads - I'm so glad you want to read Russo. He is one of my favorites! This may not be the best one to start with though. I'd recommend Empire Falls. I love books that make you want to slow down and savor, too.


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