Monday, October 18, 2010

Page 41: That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and many others, likes to explore personal relationships.  He does this in That Old Cape Magic by exploring the influence on Jack Griffin of his parents and their annual vacations to Cape Cod.  Much of the story is contained in flashbacks yet remains very coherent throughout.  Russo plays Freud at times, but manages to include enough humor to offset the angst of the main characters.  The parents are both Ivy League graduates, but end up teaching in, what they consider to be, second rate colleges in the Midwest.  One of their lifelong goals is to land a teaching position in the Ivy League.  Of course, they never do.  With two academic snobs for parents, it appears that Jack doesn't have a chance to succeed in life, but he does and becomes a screenwriter in Hollywood, and then a college professor at a New England college his parents would have died for.

Jack's marriage is heading for the rocks and he is on a collision course with his own breakdown while at the same time carrying his father's ashes in the trunk of his car, and enduring phone calls from his overbearing mother.  It is pretty easy to feel sorry for Jack.  Jack and his wife eventually split and toward the end of the book attend their daughter's wedding, each with a date.  The wedding and all the disasters that accompany it are very funny if you have a warped sense of humor.  But don't we all?

Others have summarized this book quite well, so here is a good summary of the book from Amazon.

"Following Bridge of Sighs—a national best seller hailed by The Boston Globe as “an astounding achievement” and “a masterpiece”—Richard Russo gives us the story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.
Griffin has been tooling around for nearly a year with his father’s ashes in the trunk, but his mother is very much alive and not shy about calling on his cell phone. She does so as he drives down to Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Joy, will celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. For Griffin this is akin to driving into the past, since he took his childhood summer vacations here, his parents’ respite from the hated Midwest. And the Cape is where he and Joy honeymooned, in the course of which they drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their lives together that’s now thirty years old and has largely come true. He’d left screenwriting and Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his snobby academic parents had always aspired to in vain; they’d moved into an old house full of character; and they’d started a family. Check, check and check.
But be careful what you pray for, especially if you manage to achieve it. By the end of this perfectly lovely weekend, the past has so thoroughly swamped the present that the future suddenly hangs in the balance. And when, a year later, a far more important wedding takes place, their beloved Laura’s, on the coast of Maine, Griffin’s chauffeuring two urns of ashes as he contends once more with Joy and her large, unruly family, and both he and she have brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?
That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has. The storytelling is flawless throughout, moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and heart-stopping sadness, and its ending is at once surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written."

This a good one, but wait until the next review.  Bridge of Sighs coming up.

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