Sometimes when I read a novel, it takes me a few days before I'm ready to write about it. That Old Cape Magic
by Richard Russo was one such book. I wanted to live with this book for a while, swim in it, let it get under my skin. What I've come up with today is the same conclusion that I came up with when I turned the last page -- what a great book.
The story begins and ends with a wedding, each wedding one year apart from the other. During that time, our main character, Jack Griffin, goes through a mid-life crisis of sorts. We learn why the Cape has such magic for Griffin, "As if happiness were a place." But, what Griffin learns is that the Cape may not have been able to produce miracles after all. When one makes a plan for himself, and follows that plan, at what point is it too late to look back and want to change your mind? Griffin and his wife, Joy, honeymooned on the Cape 34 years ago, and mapped out their lives together, only to second-guess their decisions and wonder if being settled meant they were settling.
Russo's small cast of characters are unique and believable. His mother is that bird constantly whispering in his ear, her sharp, cutting humor never quieting, even after her death. At what point should one stop listening to his parents, stop trying to please them? At the heart of Griffin's midlife crisis is his marriage to Joy. Usually when a couple is married, two families are joined; instead, Griffin and Joy served as gate-keepers between their respective families. Did this keep their marriage from becoming a true union, especially with each one of them so connected to their own parents?
This was not an action/adventure book. No big mystery to solve. No supernatural creatures lurking in the woods. No drugs, sex or violence. This was just a great book that was beautifully written, one that I would recommend to any of my friends
That Old Cape Magic was the first book I've read by Richard Russo, and it has turned me into a fan. I'm looking forward to reading Russo's Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs.
Many, many thanks to Knopf for sending me a wonderful novel and introducing me to such a talented author.
Read the first chapter here.
Find the readers guide here.