“That Old Cape Magic” by Richard Russo – Book Review

I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut lately, and have finally finished That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo.

The story, which seems to follow a similar style to Russo’s other works (though so far, I’ve only read Bridge of Sighs) focuses on the middle-aged main character, Jack Griffin, the state of his marriage to his wife Joy, and his relationships with his parents, inlaws, and daughter, told through the timeline of two weddings set a year apart.

Much like Bridge of Sighs, the thing that I enjoyed most about this book was Russo’s prose and his use of storytelling, particularly when it came to describing feelings one has in romantic and familial relationships that I would say can be difficult to put into words. “The Summer of the Brownings” especially, which was a true (within the novel) story of Griffin’s experiences with the family that rented the cottage next to his parents’ on the Cape as a child, and the way his character wrote it down within the story, as well as small nuances in the way Russo described Griffin’s marriage, did an excellent job of capturing elements of relationships that are relatable yet challenging to articulate.

The setting, of course, interested me as well, as the Cape was a major focus of the book (hence the title), and the second of the story’s two weddings took place in Maine (while Griffin’s parents were from New York and other locales featured included the “Mid-fucking-West” and L.A.) Perhaps it’s because my family also rented a house down the Cape when I was a kid (though only for one summer, if I remember correctly), but the Cape setting up the tone for the story just interested me in a way that I’m not sure someone who hasn’t been would understand (or they would, I guess that’s hard for me to say….

While I would not classify Bridge of Sighs as a beach read, this one seems to fit that bill much more (which doesn’t by any means imply that the book was bad, just that it’s a quicker read on a sort of similar style of storytelling, making it a nice beach read.)

My only issues with the book come in the form of what I felt were rather stereotypical views of some of the side characters (Sunny Kim, a Korean character who was friends with Griffin’s daughter, and a quick mention of a lesbian couple). Since these characters were not too involved with the protagonist, it didn’t really take away from the rest of the novel, but it did lead to a couple of cringey lines that were noticeable given the majority of Russo’s prose. (That said, the book was published almost 15 years ago, and while that isn’t that long, times have definitely changed, so it could be chalked up to my modern perception of these things reading something a little dated.)

I ranked the book 4/5 on my dorky Trello board where I track everything I’ve read, and would recommend it to anyone who’s enjoyed other books by Russo, or who is looking for a slightly more literary beach read.

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