About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

#56 - That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Jacket summary: "Following Bridge of Sighs -- a 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."

Opening line: "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."

My take: I think Russo's quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary American authors. I loved Empire Falls, appreciated Bridge of Sighs ... yet That Old Cape Magic, a wholly different story than either of the others, doesn't disappoint. While shorter and more straightforward than the earlier 2 books, it's not quite the fluffy beach read the jacket suggests, either. Griffin's parents, especially his mother, are too over-the-top awful to be believed. Joy's aforementioned large, unruly family was way too real, almost a West Coast version of my own. And Laura and Kelsey's ugly duckling turned rich, successful swan, Sunny Kim, is both appealing and a cypher; I wanted to see more of him. Russo strikes the perfect balance between realistic characters and scenarios, but then spinning them out just a little too far so we can see them for how ridiculous they are and maybe even laugh at them (and ourselves) in the bargain. A keeper, this one is.

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