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That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
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That Old Cape Magic (2009)

by Richard Russo

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Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
This book has moments in which you can see that Richard Russo has vision and could write a masterpiece. This is not it. This is pretty much your predictable fluffy “marriage on the rocks, but we really love each other” novel. There is humor, conflict of the soul, and the proven conviction that there is no such thing as a family that is not dysfunctional on some level. It is also about the expectations we have of ourselves and those other have for us, and how those conflict and often disappoint. It seems also to be about the inability of people to know anyone else in anything more than a surface way, even those we think we know completely.

After a very slow start, I became engaged with Jack Griffin and his efforts to unravel the truth about himself, his parents, and his life. I particularly enjoyed his humorous scenes that serve to break up the heaviness of this kind of introspection and a couple of quirky characters that make you shake your head a bit. The Cape is Cape Cod and because of his parents’ view of the Cape when he was a child, I think it represents the impossible utopia that so many of us waste our lives trying to find while we pass up the very real happiness that is within our reach.

I have two other Russo’s on my shelf and I will still plan to read them. Considering that he was a Pulitzer winner, I am hopeful that all the good things I found in this novel will be developed and enhanced in the next two. ( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Quintessential Russo - funny, observant, occasionally moving but overall a little thin. A nice weekend read. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
That Old Cape Magic. Richard Russo. 2009. This may be the best novel I have read on marriage since Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. When Griffin returns to Cape Cod for his daughter’s wedding memories of entire life flash in front of him: his childhood, his crazy parents and their marriage, his 30 year marriage to Joy, his screen writing career, the birth of his daughter and the year-long separation from his wife. Russo is such a skilled writer we are laughing one minute, crying the next, and recognizing his perfect insights into human nature the next. ( )
2 vote judithrs | Jun 6, 2016 |
This was a very varied reading. Griffin, who did not like to live his parents' marriage, decided not to do the same in any case. But when he found the time, he did not get rid of them and his own life resembled more and more that of his parents. His parents followed him in his thoughts and his actions and it was a constant dialogue between him and his dead parents. There were also very funny moments that brought me laugh. Probably also because they were gripped so directly from life. ( )
  Ameise1 | Feb 17, 2016 |
Griffin struggles to deal with his marriage and his parents. A good bit of humor keeps the sad searching for the root of his frustrations on an enjoyable level. Another interesting book. ( )
  addunn3 | Jun 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
The same narrative adroitness that in other books give Russo’s interior monologues such humor does similar work here by drawing the reader into Griffin’s wounded psyche. But coming from a famously funny writer, you feel that Russo is holding himself back, humor-wise, and that makes the story feel a little off, like there’s something we’re missing about Griffin.
 
In one of America's most mythic landscapes, Russo details one man's shaky first steps out of his past and into self-knowledge with good humor, generosity, and an open heart.
 
If, as a reader, you give yourself over to the delights of artifice — to Russo's tight variations on a few themes; to the cyclical returns to season and place; and to the revelations offered up by a slim cast of characters — you'll love, as I did, this pared-down Russo.
 
Russo has written six previous novels, among them the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Empire Falls,” and we’ve come to expect certain things: a complicated skein of plotlines, deep connection to place, and affection for the large cast of characters who blunder and struggle through his pages. “That Old Cape Magic” does not disappoint.
 
Like the old jokes about sex and pizza, it’s possible there’s no such thing as a bad Richard Russo novel. His latest, That Old Cape Magic, is far from his strongest, and it continues some mildly troubling trends for him, but it has enough of his trademark strengths to recommend it.
 
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For Barbara, always
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Though the digital clock on the bedside table in his hotel read 5:17, Jack Griffin, suddenly wide awake, knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep.
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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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375414967, Hardcover)

Book Description
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, unruly family, 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.

A Q&A with Richard Russo

Question: Apparently there is a wedding phenomenon you have termed "Table 17." What exactly is that and how does it relate to this novel?

Richard Russo: A few years ago my wife and I were invited to a wedding and were seated at what was clearly a "leftover" table. It reminded me of the final teams who get into the NCAA tournament. You can tell by their seeding that they were the last ones in, that they almost didn't make the grade. Table 17 works thematically in the novel because being among strangers, not sure whether you belong, may be the main character's future if he can't find a way to slow his downward spiral.

Question: 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?

Richard Russo: 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 sh**s 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 sh**ting seagull into it, you’ve suddenly moved on to something much larger.

Question: Why did you choose the Cape?

Richard Russo: For some time I've been fascinated with the idea of "a finer place" (see Lucy Lynch and Bobby Marconi in Bridge of Sighs). I'm talking about both fiction and real life. Why do people believe that happiness is more likely to find you in one place than another? It has something with what you can and can't afford, what you think you'll one day be able to swing if things go well. Except that even when they go well, you discover it's still unaffordable, which gives the desired place a magical quality. The faster you run toward it, the faster it runs away from you. I chose the Cape because it's always been expensive and just keeps getting more so, but it could have been any number of similar places. For Griffin's parents, two academics, a house on the Cape would have always been just beyond their reach. One of their many dubious genetic gifts to Griffin is a sense that happiness is always on the horizon, never where you're standing. Very American, I think.

Question: That Old Cape Magic is book ended by two weddings and becomes the story of Griffin's own marriage as well as that of his parents and the impending one of his daughter. Is there some loaded charge to weddings that unleashes the past and threatens the future in a way unlike other events? Or, in other words, what were you up to in framing your story with two weddings?

Richard Russo: It probably won't surprise readers to discover that both my daughters were married during the time I was writing this book, which, if it does well, will pay for their weddings. One of our girls was married in London, which except for the expense made things easier on my wife and me. Living in the states, how much could we really be blamed for things that went wrong so far from home? Our other daughter was married in the coastal Maine town where we live, and her wedding was therefore larger. My wife and I feared that our families, who were largely unknown to each other and living on opposite sides of the country (not to mention the political spectrum), might be fissionable. Mostly we feared for the family of the groom, and maybe even the town, since we hoped to continue living there. In the second wedding of That Old Cape Magic I imagined an absolutely catastrophic wedding in hopes it might act as a talisman against real-life disaster, which it appears to have done.

Planning your children's weddings also gets you thinking back to your own and making the inevitable comparisons. My wife and I were grad-student poor when we got married in Tucson, and our parents were only marginally better off. Our honeymoon was four days in Mexico. We'd booked the sleeper car but managed to arrive late, actually jumping onto the moving train. They'd given our sleeper to someone else and we had to sit in the aisles on our luggage for several hours until seats became available. Neither of us got a wink of sleep and, naturally, when we arrived in Mazatlan early the next morning, our room wasn't ready. We changed into bathing suits, went to the beach and immediately fell asleep under the brutal tropical sun. By the time we woke up we were burned so badly we couldn't touch each other for the rest of the trip. But we were young and the tacos were good and so was the tequila and we'd brought plenty of books and we talked about our future and who we'd be in that future, and pretty damn quick it was thirty-five years later. That's just about how long the Griffins have been married when That Old Cape Magic opens.

Question: Griffin's parents, both academics trapped in what they call the "mid f***ing west," are such wonderful, sometimes maddening, often hilarious, always surprising characters. You've mined the satiric potential of academia before, most notably in Straight Man. Have you been longing to go back there?

Richard Russo: I thought I'd got all the academic satire out of my system with Straight Man, but apparently not. Actually, since writing that novel I've entered another world—movie making—that would be equally idiotic except that instead of academic scrip it involves real money. In this novel, because Griffin's a former screenwriter, I got to compare lunacies. It wasn't a fair fight, of course. Academics are really the only ones in their weight class (heavy).

Question: At the start of the novel Griffin is a man in his mid fifties who seemingly has everything going for him, a great marriage, a great daughter, the career he aspired to, basically everything he had on his wish list when first venturing out in adulthood. Then, within a year, he watches it all come unglued. It’s amazing how quickly that can happen, no?

Richard Russo: That's the other similarity between this book and Straight Man. In both novels we watch men who are tenured in life. Safe, in other words. But there's just this one little thread on the sweater. You know you should clip it, not pull it, but there are no scissors at hand and what's the worst that can happen? The answer to that question, in this instance, is That Old Cape Magic.

Question: Have you actually ever been to a wedding where a guest was trapped in a tree?

Richard Russo: I myself have never been to a wedding where a guest got stuck in a tree, but we're attending a wedding on the Cape this summer and I have high hopes.

(Photo © Elena Seibert)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The lives of Jack and Joy Griffin always seem to come back to Cape Cod, where they honeymooned, as they experience the ups and downs of life, including the deaths of Jack's parents, the marriage of their daughter, and Jack and Joy's divorce.

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