Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bittersweet Vacations

Richard Russo’s latest novel “That Old Cape Magic” is different from his past novels that have garnered so much praise and an almost cult following. This novel does not take place in upstate New York, where Russo was born, nor does it deal with the blue collared workers who he is so famous for bringing to life.

“That Old Cape Magic” takes place at two weddings, a year apart, that are set in Cape Cod and Maine. The “hero” of Russo’s latest story is Jack Griffin, known as Griffin. Griffin is a 55 year old college professor at a liberal arts college in Connecticut. And Griffin is having a mid-life crisis. Griffin’s father has died and he is carrying his father’s ashes to disburse at Cape Cod, where Griffin and his parents spent every summer. It is here that Richard Russo unleashes his skills as a comedy writer. The dilemma of where exactly to throw these ashes gets ridiculous.

Griffin’s parents were Ivy League educated academics that ended up at a boring college in, as they will only refer to it, “the mid fucking west”. But every summer they spent a month on Cape Cod. It was their dream to live there some day and as they drove over the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod, Griffin’s parents would sing “That Old Black Magic” substituting Cape for Black. But Griffin’s parents were miserable where ever they were.

The story progresses as Griffin relives his childhood thinking about what horrible parents they were but unable to let them go, or to forgive them. What he does do is alienate his wife of thirty some years and try to recapture the glory of his days as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

Russo has written a novel about family, nostalgia, and discontent. Griffin realizes that he cannot escape his parents, shut out their voices in his head, or return to the fantasy of his youth. Richard Russo has added some hilarious scenes and witty dialogue to his repertoire. This may be a new direction for Mr. Russo and it’s fun to read. A mid-life crisis with some hilarity mixed in with introspection makes for a great story.

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