Friday, November 27, 2009

That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo

When I think of Richard Russo, I think of a wonderful storyteller who creates loveable, though not always entirely likeable, protagonists. Though his Empire Falls had enough literary weight to merit a Pulitzer, I remember it for its fabulously engaging plot. The same with Bridge of Sighs. So, when my mom told me that his latest, That Old Cape Magic, was a "quick read" that I would finish in "an hour," I knew she was exaggerating, but I also knew it meant that this would not be Russo at his finest (at least where I was concerned). As in many of his other books, including the funny Straight Man, Russo sets his characters up in the world of academia. Main character, Jack Griffin, is headed to the Cape for a wedding in which his daughter is a bridesmaid. He has decided to go on ahead of his wife, who stays behind at campus to work. A little concerned about what this means for his marriage, Jack is determined to improve upon the summers he always spent on the Cape with his bickering and snobby intellectual parents. But, he finds it hard to escape his past, as he takes his father's ashes along to scatter, and his mother insists on calling him at all the wrong moments to make him feel guilty or ashamed of his actions. The book then jumps a year ahead, with Jack returning yet again to the Cape, this time for another wedding, and in quite a different position vis-a-vis his family. Throughout the novel, Jack struggles with his inner demons - the paths he should have taken, but have been long foreclosed, the things he should have said, the people he should have loved. While Jack as an individual character is classic Russo, in terms of his contradictory nature and his apparent inability to find happiness in his own skin, the story itself lacked Russo's usual complexity. The book flap warned that this book is unlike anything Russo has ever written. And it was right. The plot was vague, and the direction aimless. Sadly, it was just missing That Old Russo Magic.

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