Thursday, December 3, 2009

That Old Russo Magic

That Old Cape Magic
by Richard Russo

This guy just does it over and over again. I was first enchanted by his book Nobody's Fool in the early 1990s, and have read everything he has written since. He is just a wonderful writer, with observations about the human condition that are dead on. His comic scenes are hilarious without being slapstick, and his tragic ones can bring you to tears.

At its most basic level, That Old Cape Magic takes us into the heart and mind of a lonely little boy who feels like a stranger in his own household. As a grown man (the story is told largely through flashbacks), he grapples with the alienation he felt (and continues to feel) from his parents, while at the same time longing to understand them and feel connected in some way. The story also is about the roads not taken and the regrets that we may have in hindsight while at the same time gaining an appreciation for the gifts and graces that HAVE occurred due to the roads that we DID take. It is about a marriage that is faltering and (for a change) two people who care enough to patch it up.

The story also is indicative of the power of place in one's spiritual and emotional well-being, but also how we have to make an effort to cultivate our own well being even when we are not in our "best" geographic place. The main character (Griffin) is the child of parents who had an awful marriage, one characterized by infidelity, constant cutting remarks towards each other, and eventually divorce. Both of these people are truly morally and spiritually bankrupt. The only place where this couple felt happy together was on Cape Cod. Griffin looked forward to their summer visits there as the best times of his childhood. Later, of course, he came to realize that even the beach visits were plagued by his parents' problems. While it is true that they loved the Cape, they also wouldn't let themselves be happy anywhere else. Even their love for the Cape was clouded by their bitterness that they could not afford to buy their own home there and live there permanently.

That Old Cape Magic does not have the emotional impact of Empire Falls or the gut-splitting humor of Straight Man, but it is a wonderful book just the same. It is more understated than some of Russo's work, but takes us inside the sorrows and joys, regrets and thanksgivings, that people develop when they have decided to go the distance together. If you are a Russo fan, read it - you won't be disappointed. If you are not, this latest of his novels is a good place to start.

Reverent Reader


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