That Old Cape Magic/Richard Russo: Reflections

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In this, the summer of my extensive, happy reading, I sit at long last with Richard Russo, who establishes himself as the perfect confidante from the first pages of That Old Cape Magic and never falters.  Russo is writing of marriage in Magic, and of the thwarting antecedents of parental influence and intrusion.  He is writing of the inability nearly all of us have to be the person we wish we could be (a theme that has repeatedly surfaced in this, the summer of my reading).  He is writing of academics and of ill-placed snobbery, of weddings, of daughters, of love's incalculable slipperiness, of Cape Cod, of Maine.  But mostly Russo is writing a terrific, well-paced story featuring Griffin, a man in the throes of a sad separation from his wife, Joy—a man who waits longer than men should wait to apologize for things unsaid and undone.  Can Griffin fix all that is broken within himself?  Can he grow up not being the very sort of people (for yes, it's like Griffin is at times two people) his most-confounding parents were?  Can he be himself, and not his legacy?

Magic is an amazingly well-made book.  No tangent is wasted, no storyline is developed simply to prove that Russo can.  Even the story within the story—a short piece that Griffin has been writing nearly his entire adult life—is telling and heartbreaking and abundantly alive.  It is also constructed, and Russo shows us how, embedding ideas in with his tale:
Stories worked much the same way, Griffin thought, shoving "The Summer of the Brownings" back into his satchel.  A false note at the beginning was much more costly than one nearer the end because early errors were part of the foundation.
I loved this book, couldn't wait to get back to it even as chaos yearned to rule in my household.  I loved the ease of its telling, the wealth of Russo's empathetic imagination, the kindness Russo ultimately showed to his characters.  Russo made me laugh out loud.  Not many writers do.


bermudaonion said...

I have yet to read any of Russo's work, but he's on my list of authors to try. You've made this book sound wonderful.

Melissa Sarno said...

Thanks for sharing this- it sounds like a book I'd be very interested in. When you say: "He is writing of the inability nearly all of us have to be the person we wish we could be (a theme that has repeatedly surfaced in this, the summer of my reading)." Yes! Lately I've been doing this thing where I try and figure out a common theme between the last 5 books I've read (and they are usually very different books.) I have found, in almost all of them, characters attempting to be a better version of themselves. Very interesting.

Becca said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this. He is one of my very favorites, and makes me laugh and cry at the same time. He captures life "at a certain age" in a way that's very close to my heart, for some reason.

Bridge of Sighs is my ultimate Russo favorite - just in case you need something else to read ;)

KFP said...

Beth: Yes. I loved this one also.

Beth F said...

I'm a huge Russo fan, but I've saving Old Cape Magic to read in Maine (as close to the Cape as I'm going to get), so sometime this fall.

Wendy said...

I have this book on my TBR pile and you've made me want to read it sooner rather than later. I love Russo...I need to read this one!

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