Review: That Old Cape Magic

There was so much hype about Richard Russo’s new novel that I just had to read it.

Richard Russo gives us the story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.

That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has. The storytelling is flawless throughout, moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and heart-stopping sadness, and its ending is at once surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written. (source: Random House website)
Griffin, a near 60 year old man, spends most to this novel reminiscing life’s journey. He carries his father’s ashes with him, with the intent of laying him to rest but can’t bring himself to do it (which is a secondary theme throughout this novel). Sharing stories from yesteryear, we get a sense of an unsettled man trying to find the next step in life.

Below is a review that sums up my reading experience, I wonder if men like this book better than women...

Amazon.com Review (3 Stars): Yep, I was a bit disappointed in TOCM. Not overly so, and it's still a fine book and a very good story, and Russo still does his amazing job of capturing the essence of fascinating, but somehow still believable characters. His delicate mixing of humor and tragedy is still strong. His ability to get the reader into the scene is amazing, and he writes the marital argument better than anyone, I think. This book was missing some of the more comedic foils in Russo's other books, but he's still drawn together an impressive cast. So what's wrong with the book? Maybe it's just a bit short. Maybe there was more story to tell. That was the feeling I came away with. If you are already a Russo fan, by all means, pick it up and read it; it's better than 99% of the other novels on the shelf. If you are new to Russo, however, save this one for later. Go back to Nobody's Fool or The Risk Pool or the Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls. Solid three stars for now, but I reserve the right to come back and bump it a bit after I've reflected for a while.
Author Q&A with Doubleday:You have said that That Old Cape Magic began as a short story. What was the moment you knew it was calling out to be a novel? Griffin, my main character, begins the story on his way to a wedding with his father’s urn in the trunk of his car. I planned for him to scatter the ashes (his past), put his future in danger at the wedding (his present) and then pull back from disaster at the last moment. But then he pulled over to the side of the road in his convertible to take a phone call from his mother, at the end of which a seagull shits on him. At that moment, in part because Griffin blames her, he and I both had a sinking feeling. You can resolve thematic issues of past, present and future in a twenty page story, but if you allow a shitting seagull into it, you’ve suddenly moved on to something much larger. Click here to read the complete interview.Click here to watch a video clip posted on the authors website

Type: Fiction, 261 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:
Following Bridge of Sighs—a national best seller hailed by The Boston Globe as “an astounding achievement” and “a masterpiece”—Richard Russo gives us the story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.

Griffin has been tooling around for nearly a year with his father’s ashes in the trunk, but his mother is very much alive and not shy about calling on his cell phone. She does so as he drives down to Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Joy, will celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. For Griffin this is akin to driving into the past, since he took his childhood summer vacations here, his parents’ respite from the hated Midwest. And the Cape is where he and Joy honeymooned, in the course of which they drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their lives together that’s now thirty years old and has largely come true. He’d left screenwriting and Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his snobby academic parents had always aspired to in vain; they’d moved into an old house full of character; and they’d started a family. Check, check and check.

But be careful what you pray for, especially if you manage to achieve it. By the end of this perfectly lovely weekend, the past has so thoroughly swamped the present that the future suddenly hangs in the balance. And when, a year later, a far more important wedding takes place, their beloved Laura’s, on the coast of Maine, Griffin’s chauffeuring two urns of ashes as he contends once more with Joy and her large, unrulyfamily, and both he and she have brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?

That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has. The storytelling is flawless throughout, moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and heart-stopping sadness, and its ending is at once surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written.

4 comments

  1. After having read "Bridge of Sighs" and looking at "Empire Falls" sitting on my nightstand, it seems hard to believe that Russo could have written a book that was not long enough!

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  2. I now have to move this up on my to be read next list! Lovely review thanks for all of the great extra info!

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  3. I've been thinking about books for men vs. books for women recently, and have been thinking about writing a blog post. It was interesting to see that you've been thinking about it too, at least with this book.

    Someday I'll read one of Richard Russo's books, but probably not anytime soon :-). So many books...

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  4. Laura,

    Your comment is spot on! While reading this book I did think that the author was writing a novel for men to enjoy.

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