Sunday, August 16, 2009

126 - That Old Cape Magic; Richard Russo

In That Old Cape Magic, the protagonist, Jack Griffin, is a 57 year old, only child of academia parents. As a child, Jack and his parents spent one month every summer on Cape Cod, traveling there from Indiana. Years later, Jack and his wife Joy spent their honeymoon on Cape Cod, where they planned for their future.

The story begins with a wedding on Cape Cod, and ends with a wedding in Maine. The setting, Cape Cod is significant, because, this is the year that Jack's life will be transformed. Cape Cod is the place where Jack struggles to find meaning in his life, and at the same time he is struggling with his own mortality. As Jack arrives at the Cape for the wedding of his daughter Lauren's best friend, he is carrying in his trunk, an urn with his father's ashes. His father died unexpectedly, nine months earlier, but Jack is looking for just the right place to scatter his remains.

Jack's parents, are flawed but memorable characters. They were Ive-League educated, but bitterly resigned to the fact they were only able to teach at "second rate" mid western colleges. Extremely critical people, they cheated on each other, squandered their money away, and thought they were better than most everyone they met. Although they thought Cape Cod was paradise, even there they seemed unhappy with their life.

Jack's parents are portrayed so vividly, that I will never forget them.

(Jack's mother speaking to her granddaughter about colleges): "Do you know what kind of people send their progeny to Williams?" "Rich, privileged, white, republican. Or, Even worse, people who-aspire to all that". (Not so unlike your other grandparents she meant). "Their kids aren't smart enough to get into any Ivy, but they have to go somewhere, so God created Williams".

(Jack reflecting on his father): "His father had left the world in about the same financial condition. Not much to show for life, he couldn't help thinking, though Thoreau would have been pleased. Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity".

Told over a time span of one year, and ending with his own daughter's wedding in Maine, That Old Cape Magic, is ultimately a story about coming to terms with one's life.

It was a story that made me think about who I am. How who we are, what we've done with our lives, and the profound effect that our parents, and our childhood has had on our lives. As a baby boomer myself, this story rang true: we are who we are because of them. This story is funny, touching, and reflective. At times I was not sure if the tears in my eyes were tears from laughter or tears of sadness. A wonderful story that moved me deeply, and will stay with me for a long time to come. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Release Date - August 11, 2009)

RATING-5/5; Completed - 8/14/09; Library


  1. I'm a baby boomer too, so this one sounds wonderful to me!

  2. I hope to finish this book later far I've loved every single page!

  3. This sounds excellent! Great review!

  4. This sounds like a book that I really need to pick up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!!

  5. I wonder if I can take that much introspection? Actually, it sounds very good and with your high recommendation I'm going to look for it at the library.

  6. I am so excited that you gave this one a 5. I've never read Russo but I am going to read this one for sure!!!

  7. I'm so glad to hear that you recommend this one so highly. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

  8. Wow! Those sound like some very embittered parents! I like Russo, so I am glad you gave this book such a big thumbs up. I will look forward to reading it. Great review, and great quotes.

  9. Wonderful review, Diane. I know I'll be thinking about this book for a while. A lot to ponder! Russo did a great job with Griffin's parents, didn't he? I'll never forget "Can't afford it/wouldn't have it as a gift". God, they were insufferable!! But that's what I expect from Russo - vivid characters. I have to say, though, I enjoy his earlier books about small towns and the people who live there. Also, Straight Man was hilarious.

  10. I'm getting a mental image of "Emily Gilmore" afyter reading that brief on Jack's mother...

    I like strong character driven plots so this book sounds like just the ticket, thanks for the review!


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