That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo has done it again. In That Old Cape Magic, Russo once again draws three-dimensional, relatable characters whose hopes and flaws draw you into the story.

While much less ambitious than his previous novel, Bridge of Sighs, both in its cast of characters and time span, his latest also explores some similar themes–family, memory and the irrepressible pull of the past.

That Old Cape Magic focuses on the marriage between Jack and Joy Griffin. But it mainly centers on Griffin (who forgoes Jack most of the time), a college professor and former screenwriter and his complicated memories of his haughty, emotionally remote academic parents.

Griffin grew up with two parents who, despite their academic ambitions, ended up in the “mid-f******-west,” and escape to Cape Cod each summer to reclaim their rightful sense of themselves and in order to help repair a marriage plagued by affairs and general malaise. Griffin has tried to live a life apart from his parents, but has not fully processed their impact on his life and character.

On a trip out to the Cape for the wedding of one of their daughter’s friends, Griffin and Joy’s marriage faces a crisis and everything changes.

What Russo captures so well about this marriage is what these Ida lyrics from their song “Little Things” also conjure about relationships in general: “Little things pile up and turn into bigger things/And I want you to notice/and I want you to try.”

In exploring one marriage over roughly a year and between two weddings, and a man who has not fully examined his own past and its hold on him, Russo once again delivers a book worthy of discussion. That is, if you don’t mind buying it in hardcover next month.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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