That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape Magic

by Richard Russo


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400030910
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 376,896
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Richard Russo lives with his wife in Camden, Maine, and in Boston. In 2002 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls.


Gloversville, New York

Date of Birth:

July 15, 1949

Place of Birth:

Johnstown, New York


B.A., University of Arizona, 1967; Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1979; M.F.A., University of Arizona, 1980

Read an Excerpt


A Finer Place

Though the digital clock on the bedside table in his hotel room read 5:17, Jack Griffin, suddenly wide awake, knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. He’d allowed himself to drift off too early the night before. On the heels of wakefulness came an unpleasant realization, that what he hadn’t wanted to admit yesterday, even to himself, was now all too clear in the solitary, predawn dark. He should have swallowed his petulance and waited the extra day for Joy.

It had been their long- established habit to flee the campus as soon as Griffin taught his last class. Usually, they hopped on the Freedom Trail (his term for I- 95), drove to New York and treated themselves by checking into a good hotel. During the day he would evaluate his small mountain of student portfolios while Joy shopped or otherwise amused herself, and then, evenings, they’d catch up on movies and go to good restaurants. The whole thing reminded him of the early years of their marriage back in L.A. It cost a small fortune, but there was something about spending money they didn’t really have that made him optimistic about more coming in—which was how it had worked in L.A.—and it got him through the portfolios.

This year Kelsey’s Cape Cod wedding had royally screwed up their plans, making New York impractical, though he’d been willing to substitute Boston. But Joy, assuming that thanks to the wedding all the usual bets were off, had messed things up further by scheduling meetings on the day after his last class. “Just go,” she said when he expressed his annoyance at the way things were working out. “Have a boys’ night out in Boston and I’ll meet you on the Cape.” He’d squinted at this proposal. Didn’t you need more than one to have a boys’ night out? Or had Joy meant it to be singular, one boy celebrating his boyness? Was that how she’d understood the phrase all her life, as singular? Joy’s relationship to the English language was not without glitches. She was forever mixing metaphors, claiming that something was “a tough line to hoe.” Row to hoe? Line to walk? Her sisters, Jane and June, were even worse,
and when corrected all three would narrow their eyes dangerously and identically. If they’d had a family motto, it would have been You Know Perfectly Well What I Mean.

In any event his wife’s suggestion that he go on without her had seemed less than sincere, which was why he decided to call her bluff. “All right,” he said, “that’s what I’ll do,” expecting her to say, Fine, if it means that much to you, I’ll reschedule the meetings. But she hadn’t said that, even when she saw him packing his bag, and so he’d discovered a truth that other men probably knew already— that once you’d packed a bag in front of a woman there was no possibility of unpacking, or of not going and taking the damn bag with you.

Worse, Joy, who preferred to watch movies on DVD rather than in a theater, as they were meant to be seen, had given him a list of films he was forbidden to see without her, and of course these were the only ones worth seeing. He’d spent an hour looking through the restaurant guides provided by the hotel, but couldn’t decide on one, or even on what kind of food he wanted. Griffin had no trouble making these sorts of decisions when she was around, but for some reason, when he had only himself to please, he often couldn’t make up his mind. He told himself this was just the result of being married for thirty years, that part of the decision- making process was imagining what his wife would enjoy. Okay, but more and more he found himself stalled, in the middle of whatever room he happened to be standing in, and he realized that this had been, of course, his father’s classic pose. In the end Griffin had ordered room service and watched a crappy made- for- TV movie, the kind he and Tommy, his old partner, had been reduced to writing that last year or two in L.A. before he’d gotten his teaching gig and moved back East with Joy and their daughter, Laura. He’d fallen asleep before the first commercial, confident he could predict not only the movie’s outcome but also half its dialogue.

In order not to dwell on yesterday’s mistakes, he decided to put today in motion by calling down to the bell captain for his car. Twenty minutes later, dressed and showered, he’d checked out of his Back Bay hotel. The whole of Boston fit neatly into the rectangle of his rearview mirror, and by the time the Sagamore Bridge, one of two that spanned the Cape Cod Canal, hove into view, the sky was silver in the east, and he felt the last remnants of yesterday’s prevarications begin to lift like the patchy fog he’d been in and out of since leaving the city. The Sagamore arched dramatically upward in the middle, helping to pull the sun over the horizon, and though the air was far too cool, Griffin pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and put the convertible’s top down, feeling truly off the reservation for the first time since leaving home in Connecticut. There was something vaguely thrilling about not being where his wife thought he was. She liked to know what people were up to, and not just him. She called Laura most mornings, her brain still lazy with sleep, to ask “So . . . what’s on the agenda for you today?” She also phoned both of her sisters several times a week and knew that June was having her hair done tomorrow morning and that Jane had put on five new pounds and was starting a diet. She even knew what new folly her idiot twin brothers, Jared and Jason, were engaged in. To Griffin, an only child, such behavior was well over the line that separated the merely inexplicable from the truly perverse.

Zipping along Route 6, Griffin realized he was humming “That Old Black Magic,” the song his parents had sung ironically—both university English professors, that’s how they did most things— every time they crossed the Sagamore, substituting Cape for black. When he was growing up, they’d spent part of every summer on the Cape. He could always tell what kind of year it had been, moneywise, by when and where they stayed. One particularly prosperous year they’d rented a small house in Chatham for the month of August. Another year, when faculty salaries were frozen, all they could afford was Sandwich in June. His parents had been less wed to each other than to a shared sense of grievance over being exiled eleven months of every year to the “Mid- fucking- west,” a phrase they didn’t say so much as spit. They had good academic careers, though perhaps not the stellar ones that might have been predicted, given their Ivy League pedigree. Both had grown up in the Rust Belt of western New York State, his mother in suburban Rochester, his father in Buffalo, the children of lower- middle- class, white- collar parents. At Cornell, where they’d both gone on scholarship, they’d met not only each other but also the kind of friends who’d invited them home for holidays in Wellesley and Westchester and for summer vacations in the Hamptons or on the Cape. They told their parents they could earn more money there, which was true, but in fact they’d have done anything to avoid returning to their parents’ depressing upstate homes. At Yale, where they did their graduate work, they came to believe they were destined for research positions at one of the other Ivys, at least until the market for academics headed south and they had to take what they could get—the pickings even slimmer for a couple—and that turned out to be a huge state university in Indiana.

Betrayed. That was how they felt. Why go to Cornell, to Yale, if Indiana was your reward? But they’d had little choice but to hunker down and make the best of their wretched timing, so they dove into teaching and research and committee work, hoping to bolster their vitae so that when the academic winds changed they’d be ready. They feared the Princeton and Dartmouth ships had probably sailed for good, but that still left the Swarthmores and Vassars of the world as safe if not terribly exciting havens. This much, at least, was surely their due. And before going up for promotion and tenure (or “promotion and tether,” in their parlance) in the Midfucking-west, they’d each had opportunities—she at Amherst, he at Bowdoin—but never together. So they stayed put in their jobs and their marriage, each terrified, Griffin now suspected, that the other, unshackled, would succeed and escape to the kind of academic post (an endowed chair!) that would complete the misery of the one left behind. To make their unhappy circumstances more tolerable, they had affairs and pretended to be deeply wounded when these came to light. His father had been a genuine serial adulterer, whereas his mother simply refused to lag behind in this or anything else.

Of course all of this was adult understanding. As a boy, the reluctant witness to his parents’ myriad quarrels and recriminations, Griffin had imagined that he must be the one keeping them together. It was his mother who eventually disabused him of this bizarre notion. At his and Joy’s wedding reception, actually. But by then they had finally divorced—even spite, apparently, was not eternal—and she’d narrowly won the race to remarry. In an ecumenical mood, she ventured outside the English department for her second husband, a philosopher named Bart, whom she’d quickly dubbed “Bartleby.” At the reception, half in her cups, she’d assured Griffin, “Good heavens, no, it wasn’t you. What kept us together was ‘That Old Cape Magic.’ Remember how we used to sing it every year on the Sagamore?” She then turned to Bartleby. “One glorious month, each summer,” she explained. “Sun. Sand. Water. Gin. Followed by eleven months of misery.” Then back to Griffin. “But that’s about par for most marriages, I think you’ll find.” The I think you’ll find, he understood, was of course meant to suggest that in her view, his own marital arithmetic was likely to be much the same. For a moment it seemed as if Bartleby might offer an observation of his own, but he apparently preferred not to, though he did sigh meaningfully.

Griffin was about to respond when his father reappeared with Claudia, his former graduate student and new wife. They’d disappeared briefly after the ceremony, to quarrel or make love, he had no idea. “I swear to God,” his mother said, “if he buys that child a house on the Cape—and I do mean anywhere on the Cape—I may have to murder him.” Her face brightened at a pleasant thought. “You might actually prove useful,” she told Bartleby, then turned back to Griffin. “Your stepfather collects locked- room murder mysteries. Death by curare, that sort of thing. You can figure something out, can’t you? Just make sure I’m in full view of everyone in the drawing room when the fat cow hits the deck, writhing in excruciating pain.” She knew perfectly well, of course, that Griffin’s father didn’t have the money to buy Claudia (who was more zaftig than fat) or anyone else a house on the Cape, of course. She’d made sure of that by beggaring him in the divorce settlement, but the possibility— what of, that he might purchase a winning Lotto ticket?—still clearly worried her.

To Griffin, now fifty- five, roughly the same age his parents had been when he and Joy married, the Cape place- names were still magical: Falmouth, Woods Hole, Barnstable, Dennis, Orleans, Harwich. They made a boy of him again and put him in the backseat of his parents’ car, where he’d spent much of his boyhood, unbelted, resting his arms on the front seat, trying to hear what they, who never made any attempt to include him in their conversations, were talking about. It wasn’t so much that he was interested in their front- seat conversations as aware that decisions that impacted him were being made up there, and if privy to these hatching plans he might offer an opinion. Unfortunately, the fact that his chin was resting on the seat back seemed to preclude this. Most of what he overheard wasn’t really worth the effort anyway. “Wellfleet,” his mother might say, studying the road atlas. “Why haven’t we ever tried Wellfleet?” By the time Griffin was a high school freshman, which marked the last of their Cape vacations, they’d rented just about everywhere. Each summer, when they handed over the keys at the end of their stay, the rental agent always asked if they wanted to book it for next year, but they always said no, which made Griffin wonder if the perfect spot they were searching for really existed. Perhaps, he concluded, just looking was sufficient in and of itself.

While he roamed the beach unattended, full of youthful energy and freedom, his parents spent sunny afternoons lying on the sand with their “guilty pleasures,” books they’d have been embarrassed to admit to their colleagues they’d ever heard of. They were on vacation, they claimed, not just from the Mid- fucking- west but also from the literary canon they’d sworn to uphold. His mother’s taste ran to dark, disturbing thrillers and cynical spy novels. “That,” she would say, turning the book’s last page with evident satisfaction, “was truly twisted.” His father alternated between literary pornography and P. G. Wodehouse, enjoying both thoroughly, as if Naked Lunch and Bertie Wooster Sees It Through were intended as companion pieces.

The only thing they both read—indeed, studied as intently as each year’s Modern Language Association job listings—was the real- estate guide. Unwilling to give the other a first look, they always picked up two copies as soon as they arrived and wrote their names on the covers so they’d know which was which and whose fault it was if one got lost. A house here was part of their longrange, two- part plan to escape the Mid- fucking- west. First they would find real jobs back East, where they’d locate a suitable apartment to rent. This would allow them to save money for a house on the Cape, where they’d spend summers and holidays and the occasional long weekend, until of course they retired—early if they could swing it—and lived on there full- time, reading and writing op- eds and, who knew, maybe even trying their hand at a novel.

A single day was usually all it took for each of them to plow through the hundreds of listings in the fat real- estate guide and place each into one of two categories—Can’t Afford It or Wouldn’t Have It As a Gift—before tossing the booklet aside in disgust, because everything was more expensive this year than last. But the very next day his father would set Jeeves aside and take another look. “Page twenty- seven,” he’d say, and Griffin’s mother would set down her Ripley and rummage for her copy in the beach bag. “Bear with me, now,” he’d continue. Or, “Some things would have to go right”—meaning a big merit raise or a new university- press book contract—“but . . .” And then he’d explain why a couple of the listings they’d quickly dismissed the day before just maybe could be made to work. Later in the month, on a rainy day, they’d go so far as to look at a house or two at the low end of the Can’t Afford It category, but the realtors always intuited at a glance that Griffin’s parents were just tire kickers. The house they wanted was located in a future only they could see. For people who dealt largely in dreams, his father was fond of observing, realtors were a surprisingly unromantic bunch, like card counters in a Vegas casino.

The drive back to the Mid- fucking- west was always brutal, his parents barely speaking to each other, as if suddenly recalling last year’s infidelities, or maybe contemplating whom they’d settle for this year. Sex, if you went by Griffin’s parents, definitely took a backseat to real estate on the passion gauge.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo's rueful story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind.

1. What does Jack Griffin want?

2. In reference to his parents' ongoing but fruitless search for a Cape Cod beach house, Griffin muses, “Perhaps . . . just looking was sufficient in and of itself” (page 9). Is looking enough? Which characters prove or disprove this point of view?

3. One page 16, Griffin points out to his mother that she and his father used to sing “That Old Cape Magic” on the Sagamore Bridge, “as if happiness were a place.” Is it possible for happiness to be a place? Can a place save a relationship?

4. Griffin poses a question to himself: “Why was he more resentful of Harve and Jill, who really wanted to understand how he made his living, than his own parents, who had never, to his knowledge, seen a single film he had anything to do with” (page 49)? Griffin doesn't admit to an answer, but what do you think the answer is?

5. In “The Summer of the Brownings,” young Griffin refuses to spend his last night on the Cape with Peter, even though the decision only serves to hurt everyone. Can you point to other incidents in which Griffin exercises his perverse desire to hurt himself and others?

6. Why is Griffin so apprehensive of commitment? What is he afraid of losing?

7. Griffin notes that “his wife's natural inclination was toward contentment” (page 105). What is Griffin's natural inclination?

8. Is Griffin afraid of being happy? Is being the happy the same as “settling”?

9. How has Griffin's cynicism caused him to misinterpret the intentions of those around him?

10. Why does it take so long for Griffin to dispose of his parents' remains?

11. Why does Griffin feel the need to carry on internal conversations with his mother?

12. How does Griffin's relationship with his parents lead to the dissolution of his marriage to Joy?

13. Why does Griffin insist on staying in L.A., away from Joy?

14. Griffin uneasily considers the parallels between Joy's attachment to himself and Tommy and Laura's attachment to Andy and Sunny. How do these similar triangles play out?

15. This book dances around the concept of responsibility: filial responsibility, marital responsibility, and personal responsibility, to name a few. What do Russo's characters feel about responsibility?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit


The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo's rueful story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind.

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That Old Cape Magic 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 202 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
When Jack Griffin was growing up in New England, he vowed to never follow in the footsteps of his academia parents, both professors. Instead he fled to Los Angeles where he became a screenwriter and ultimately married Joy. Ironically, after his parents die, he and his spouse move east as he accepts a position as a professor of film. As Jack has the urns containing the dust of his parents in his trunk, he looks back at his life wondering is that all there is. He thinks of his honeymoon with Joy at the cape where he demanded they go and a year later to Maine where she demanded they go. He reflects on the marriages of his parents and her parents while pondering whether he needs to call its quits on his. This is an intriguing look at relationships with the emphasis being on marital, parent-adult offspring, and parent adult offspring's spouse. How haunting these combinations can be is accentuated by Jack's inability to spread the ashes. With flashbacks, the audience sees how dynamics change over time due to age and marital status. Although Jack can overkill a poetic soliloquy with a passionate display of motor mouth, fans will appreciate Richard Russell's deep look at relational magic. Harriet Klausner
sarali2 More than 1 year ago
I loved, loved, loved everything about the novel 'That Old Cape Magic.' The characters were so well drawn; the family quirks charming and "laugh out loud" funny. I'm recommending this book to friends as a great read.
WordDoc More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo's fiction may appeal more to mature readers than to those who like bodice-rippers and romans de clef. Its ironic look are modern marriage won't appeal to those who yearn for everything to work out all right in the end. It's far too realistic for that kind of formulaic reader's taste. But it does look without blinking at the capacity of people to live according to their own self-imposed formulas, and to affect the lives of their children and friends with their stubborn refusal to adapt their lives to conditions. Indeed, the stubborn adherence to formulas which reflect their snobbishness is the strongest aspect of the characters whose determined unhappiness makes their actions so interesting that we can no more turn away from them than we can drive past a wreck along the highway without slowing down. There is little escapism in this book for the reader who seeks it. Instead there is a hard look at those who seek to escape from their unhappy lives by denying that they are unhappy. There is plenty to think about in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo wrote a "beach book" this time around. Enjoyable, light, superficial story. I agree with some of the other reviewers that he definitely overused certain phrases - not a lot of originality. Same with a number of the characters, e.g. Joy's twin brothers, Sunny Kim. Just so stereotypical. Wait for the paperback and take it to the beach. It can be read in a day or so. I would give the book a 2.5.
MacZapper More than 1 year ago
While I thought I'd be reading about the Cape, and certainly there were some references to the Cape, most of the book had to do with the mental anguish of the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this could be a really good book - it's about the residue of family on you and being an academic on vacation and marriage - but the author spoils it by repeating stupid catch phrases (the "mid-f**kig west", and dining with Al (al fresco))) he also exaggerates - making the story un-believable (his parents ruining countless rental house - fire and flood) but not comic which would redeem the extremity-I am so disappointed- how many times do I read a review (NPR!!, NYT!) and believe the praise to the degree that I buy a hardcover book. Never-! now the question is whether to finish it--almost toxic to read about people with selfish bad attitudes?
W_Brown More than 1 year ago
It seems that we have to accept the downside of writers having to support themselves by giving creative writing courses. It feels like every protagonist in modern American literature is a middle-class professor nowadays... But this is an artfully constructed book, with one standout comic scene, whihc is the equal of Richard Ford's baseball incident in 'Independence Day' in its ability to distil the poignancy and heart of the entire book. That scene (which involves a wedding, a wheelchair and a ricketty veranda) is worth the cover price on its own!
Betharu More than 1 year ago
I got to the final 20 pages and just wanted it to be over! If you are in to analyzing the thoughts and emotions of characters, this is your book. I found myself craving dialogue! Although the scene with the father-in-law and the hedge was pretty funny! Best part of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Richard Russo's new book. As always he write in a way to keep you interested through out the whole book. It is a great read and a lot of fun.
AndyAC More than 1 year ago
If only I could do anything as well as Richard Russo writes. Once again when reading a book of his, one feels that they know these people and care about them. He writes about real people with their imperfections, their conflicts, their warts and all. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated .... I couldn't put it down and was sorry to see it end. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I laughed out loud at this latest effort of Russo's. It was poignant and brought up so many memories. We're old Cape Codder's ourselves and truly understood the feeling of going over the bridge onto the Cape. His reflections on his parents and his later revelations were so insightful. Loved the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very slow moving in some areas; maybe you have to be a New Englander to fully appreciate.
montana-gal More than 1 year ago
This is very different from other Russo works. At first you are not sure you are liking it, but you get drawn in. I really liked the book, and Russo is always a pleasure to read. There is always a mixture of pathos and humor in his work,and this is no exception. One particular event was the singularly most side-splitting sequence I have ever read. I won't spoil it by saying anything about it.
emmaEW More than 1 year ago
A thoughtful and touching look at parental and marital relationships. A work as much about things said as things left unsaid. A little reminiscent of "Straight Man" as far as the main character. Russo continues to develop deep empathy for his characters as will his readers. Russo seems to have taken a simpler approach than such previous works as "Empire Falls". Less detail about place but very deep insight into relationships as well as some welcome comic relief. A worthwhile read.
debnance on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Griffin goes to weddings, loves his wife, is estranged from his wife, carries his parents¿ ashes in the trunk of his car, and longs to visit the Cape again.That¿s the whole book. I hope I didn¿t give anything away.A long, long section in the middle that dragged so much I wanted to put the book down. But the last third of the book picked up and the story zoomed to the end.
Othemts on LibraryThing 2 days ago
This is a book about a middle-aged man who had awful, unloving parents and his only good thing in his childhood were annual trips to Cape Cod that are highly romanticized in his memory. As an adult he learns that he is more like his parents than he realizes and desperately tries to shake his attachment to them (comically so in that he literally carries their ashes in his car being unable to dispose of them). His marriage falls apart, his daughter marries, and chaos ensues at the wedding. This book features some really awful, irredeemable people as characters and cringe-worthy hijinks, but in many ways is very human in all the flaws of humanity. It wasn't a great book, but was okay to listen to as an audiobook for my book club.
Pennydart on LibraryThing 2 days ago
One has to wonder whether Richard Russo had the film ¿Four Weddings and a Funeral¿ in mind while writing this book. It begins and ends with weddings attended by the protagonist Jack Griffin. The first, which takes place on Cape Cod, is the wedding of a childhood friend of Jack¿s daughter, while the second, held in Maine, is the wedding of the daughter herself. But also central to the story are three deaths, if not funerals, notably including the deaths of both of Jack¿s parents, a year apart in time. Jack¿s inability to scatter their ashes leads to his driving around with first his father¿s, and then both his parents¿ cremains in the trunk of his car. So, ¿Two Weddings and Three Deaths¿.The book explores the complexities of family relationships, and in particular, the grip that one¿s parents can have on one¿s life, even long after growing up. Jack, though approaching 60, is still haunted by the influence of his parents: unpleasant, mean-spirited, and snobby academics, who had planned on Ivy League Careers, but ended up in what they refer to as the Mid-Fucking-West. (Disclaimer, since I¿m a University of Michigan faculty member: they¿re supposed to be at an unnamed college in Indiana.) Jack thinks he has completely disassociated himself from them, through actions both large¿including marrying a woman who, gasp, has not done graduate work¿and small. But his inability to part with his parents¿ ashes is just the most obvious indication of his failure to fully separate himself from them.The title of the book comes from the song that Jack¿s parents used to sing, riffing on ¿That Old Black Magic,¿ each summer when they vacationed in Cape Cod, the only place they were truly happy. While there, they¿d scrutinize the local real-estate guide, and inevitably classify all the available houses into two categories: ¿Can¿t Have It¿ and ¿Wouldn¿t Have It As a Gift¿. That dichotomous view of the world¿everything is either too good for me or I¿m too good for it¿pervades Jack¿s life for many years. Much of the book is told in flashbacks. One of these, involving a friend that Jack makes as a child during one his family¿s Cape Cod vacations, becomes the subject of a short story that Jack tries to write as an adult. Another concerns Jack¿s honeymoon, in Truro, Cape Cod, where he and his wife Joy imagine a particular future together, committing to it in what they call the Truro Accord. But the heart of the book is the story of the self-destructive path that Jack takes during the year between the two weddings, as he tries, finally, to separate from his parents.As with Russo¿s other books, the serious themes here are countered with outrageously humorous events, including notably a chaotic accident that leaves Jack¿s father-in-law hanging upside down in his wheelchair in a yew chair, with other guests scattered below after a ramp gives way. The book is perhaps not as compelling as some of Russo¿s others, especially ¿Empire Falls¿, and at least some of the central characters¿Griffin¿s mother, as well as Marguerite and Harold¿just don¿t seem realistic. Nonetheless, overall it¿s both a thought-provoking book and one that¿s enjoyable to read.
markgalassi on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I'd read Straight Man and Empire Falls which I rate very highly. This book did not seem to have a meaningful complete story and was a bit scattered, although it had a lot of Russo's great turns of phrase and delving into non-optimistic characters.
SamSattler on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Richard Russo¿s That Old Cape Magic begins and ends with weddings attended by many of the same people. But, despite the overlap in the guest list, and the fact that the two weddings are barely one year apart, they could hardly have been more different. As the book begins, Jack Griffin and his wife, Joy, are making their separate ways to Cape Cod to attend the wedding of their daughter¿s best friend. Another university year has ended, and Jack, too impatient to wait one more day for Joy to finish up her administrative work at the school, has left for the Cape without her. Technically, however, he is not alone since he carries his father¿s ashes in the trunk of his car and plans to dispose of them somewhere along his route to the wedding. The Griffins, who have been married for more than three decades, have weathered lean times and tensions with the in-laws to carve out a rather comfortable existence for themselves. They have, in fact, attained the lifestyle that Jack¿s own parents always yearned for, but never achieved for themselves ¿ all of it centered on their work at a respected liberal arts college in Connecticut. For Jack, driving to Cape Cod for the wedding is a bit like coming home. As a boy, he spent part of each summer vacationing with his parents on the Cape, and it was where he and Joy had honeymooned. All things considered, Jack Griffin is satisfied with his life.One short year later, Jack is driving to the coast of Maine for his daughter¿s wedding, but much has changed. He is still carrying his father¿s ashes in the trunk, but this year his father¿s urn has been joined by a second one containing the ashes of Jack¿s mother. Like last year, he and Joy are making their separate ways to the wedding ¿ but this time each of them has brought along a date. The flaws in their marriage, obvious during the first wedding weekend, have seemingly doomed it just one year later.That Old Cape Magic is told from Jack Griffin¿s perspective, the reader ensconced in Jack¿s head for a series of flashbacks going all the way back to his boyhood. Jack is an introspective man and, as he considers the events of his childhood and his relationship with his parents, the reader begins to understand Jack Griffin, the man. He has reached a threshold in his life ¿ his marriage seems over, his parents are dead, his only child has just married, he has been granted a leave of absence from the university, his Hollywood screenwriting job is not going well - and he has no idea what comes next. That Old Cape Magic might be one man¿s story, but Jack Griffin¿s contemporaries will easily identify with it and the realization that little things, given enough time, and occurring in the right combination, can ultimately chip away at one¿s whole world. Russo uses a good bit of humor (his daughter¿s wedding rehearsal is genuinely hilarious) and over-the-top characters (Jack¿s parents are unforgettable snobs of the first order), however, that make this one fun despite its rather somber theme.Rated at: 5.0
bohemiangirl35 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
The beginning was a little slow, but it picked up about half way through and held my interest to the end. The second wedding scene is hilarious and had me laughing out loud! Main character Jack Griffin goes through a midlife crisis and figures out that every family has their issues. You can't escape your parents. Love the best in them, acknowledge the worst and move on because the more you focus on what's wrong with other people, the less you concentrate on being the best, happy and satisfied you that you can be.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Audiobook..............A painfully realistic look at the crises inherent in middle age.....Loss of parents, children marrying, careers past their peak. and marriages weakening under the weight of familiarity. the reader follows one man as he attempts to redefine himself after his father's death. The story moves back and forth in time and then resolves in a manner which makes complete sense to me. A good, if somewhat painful read.
stephaniechase on LibraryThing 4 days ago
I love Richard Russo, but I was incredibly disappointed in this novel. Rather than Pulitzer-Prize level work, this novel is what happens when you take the characters from Elmore Leonard and plop them into an Anne Rivers Siddons novel. I felt the characters, including the parents, were not particularly well-developed, and that the major events were hurried through.
saratoga99 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
I really do like Richard Russo's writing style. The story line was believable as were the characters. The fact that a great deal of the book is set at Cape Cod was appealing to me, but my favorite song as I crossed the Bourne or Sagamore Bridge was Patti Page's rendition of "Old Cape Cod." And it always amazed me how many times I heard it on the radio as I was crossing the bridge. What was fascinating about this book is how childhood memories we believe to be true, are in fact, not. I have read many books that offer the same opinion, and frankly, I believe it to be valid. Another compelling aspect of this novel was how our parents' lives (and how we are raised by them), encroach upon our adult lives, whether we realize it or not.Thinking about this, I really believe it deserves four stars.
dawnlovesbooks on LibraryThing 4 days ago
this book was funny at times, but also kinda boring at times. while i enjoyed it somewhat, i felt that it was lacking something.
bexaplex on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Just like Straight Man, That Old Cape Magic is funny and truthful. The narrator's parents are deliciously awful, and the rehearsal dinner gone wrong had me laughing so hard I was crying.