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That Old Cape Magic

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  15,021 Ratings  ·  2,224 Reviews
Thirty years ago and full of hope, on their Cape Cod honeymoon, Jack and Joy Griffin drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their future that's now thirty years old and has largely come true. At the time they were living in Los Angeles, where Griffin wrote scripts that were already losing his interest. He left all that behind for a family life and to teach at the sort ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 6th 2009 by Chatto & Windus (first published January 1st 2009)
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Will Byrnes
The title refers to a modification of the song “That Old Black Magic,” a tune sung with verve and hope by narrator Jack Griffin’s parents when they would cross the bridge into Cape Cod every summer for one month of relief from eleven months of misery. Each of the book’s eleven chapters connects to some aspect of Cape Cod in Jack’s life, from summer vacations there as a kid, to his honeymoon to the wedding of his daughter’s friend, and later his daughter’s wedding.

Place is important to the story
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I find Richard Russo's greatest strength to be the humanity he gives to his working-class, somewhat crude, and deeply flawed characters in the blue-collar New England and upstate New York towns he generally chronicles.

That said, this is a book centered on the highly cerebral problems of a middle-aged, middle-class academic going through a life crisis. So...yeah, not so much.

Russo's writing ability still shines through, but the characters just don't have that sympathetic spark that binds the read
This book has moments in which you can see that Richard Russo has vision and could write a masterpiece. This is not it. This is pretty much your predictable fluffy “marriage on the rocks, but we really love each other” novel. There is humor, conflict of the soul, and the proven conviction that there is no such thing as a family that is not dysfunctional on some level. It is also about the expectations we have of ourselves and those other have for us, and how those conflict and often disappoint. ...more
Sep 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Russo said in an interview that he’d originally intended for this to be a short story. Then he wrote a scene where Jack Griffin, his main character, was on the side of the road talking to his shrew of a mother on the phone when a seagull flew by and dropped a calling card on his head. At that point any tidy resolutions to Griffin’s problems weren’t going to work – further development was going to be needed. But at 261 pages, we could have used more. To be honest, it felt a little thin. I say thi ...more
Orrin Laferte
This is the first book by Richard Russo that I have read and I know he has had some great reviews on previous publications. This was just an OK book for me. It reminded me of a 21st Century Updike or Cheevers. There was almost as much drinking, cheating and dysfunction, but not as many interesting people. The academic snobbery hasn't changed with the century. Other than the male protagonist's wife , daughter and temporary girlfriend, I didn't like or relate to any of the characters in this book. ...more
This is my first Russo book and I did enjoy it. Some have said it's about a man's midlife crisis, but I am not altogether sure that's what it's about at all. It's about a man and his wife, his parents and hers. It's about the influences and familial situations and relationships (real or imagined) that make us who we are.
It's about guilt, love, self effacing, self love or at least self acceptance. It's about what it really takes to look truthfully into that all knowing mirror and not turn away fr
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A menudo los hijos se nos parecen, y así nos dan la primera satisfacción, que decía el inefable Serrat. Aunque también es verdad que algunas de nuestras actitudes vistas en nuestros hijos nos puedan producir tristeza. Pero, ¿qué ocurre cuando es al contrario? ¿qué pasa cuando nos horroriza descubrir en nosotros esa herencia de nuestros padres, a los que por nada del mundo nos querríamos parecer? Este es el hilo conductor de este libro que transcurre por la carretera secundaria de la crisis de ma ...more
Aug 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rick Russo's new book contains some familiar, beloved elements for Russo-philes-- a devoted, exhausted wife; a smart, snarky daughter; an irritating mother who doesn't stop meddling, even after death--and at the center, a restless, loving soul, this time the professor Griffin, who wrestles with life's meaning, love, and legacy. But there's new ground here too, not least in the brevity and economy of the story. Plus, at times CAPE MAGIC is more laugh out loud funny than any Russo book in recent m ...more
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jack's journey of soul searching and finding his way was warmly told and delightfully entertaining.
Jack is afraid to fully engage in life. He keeps much of himself to himself, so much so that he pushes people away, especially those who love him.
In middle-age, he struggles to understand himself, his life, what's important and what he wants....not what others want for him. Who is Jack? The story is told with humor, warmth, family and life.
This is the first of Richard Russo's books that I've read
Be forewarned: When you gaze into the eyes of your future mate and proclaim "I do," odds are that you're tying the knot with three people, not one. Richard Russo's recent novel explores the inconvenient fact that most marriages involve two players on the field and four players on the bench; each partner's parents are shadow participants in the enterprise, despite their physical distance or animate state.

Jack Griffin and his wife, Joy, have weathered a 30-year union with relative success. The mar
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First impressions:

What really comes to the fore in a sort of throwaway novel like this is just how good a writer Russo is. Even with a story that is not meant to be overly complex, and isn't weighed down with a large cast of characters, Russo is such a capable craftsman.
When I, as a person who (sadly) can't write, think of the writing process I think of sitting down, looking around the room, taking a deep breath, and starting to type.
Russo dashes this image completely.
I saw an interview with h
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Oh boy! ohboy ohboy ohboy ohboy... Whenever I give a book five stars and don't write much of a review, you all know that it moved me so much that I don't know what to say.

I adore Richard Russo, but have never given any of his books five stars. Partway through the book, I never would have expected this to be the one to get the fifth star. But I stuck with it because I knew Russo wouldn't let me down, and by the end I was laughing and crying at the same time.

To truly appreciate what this book of
Aug 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hilarious! Slapstick! Russo?
Yes, so cleverly written. Loved it.

From the NYTimes Book Review (Roxanna Robinson):

"Family, family, family is the subject of “That Old Cape Magic.” The family is where the best — and the worst — things happen to us. Whether we embrace it or try to escape it, the family is at the center of our lives. Along with that voracious little worm of dissatisfaction, munching away."

There are two weddings used as bookends with a year in the protagonist's life in between. Jack Griffin, after 34 years of marriage, is dealing with the question of who he wants to be when he grows up. His life has sort of snuck up on him and he's not sure if he's happy with where he ends up.We get to spend lots of very well written angst-filled days with Jack.

Both of his parents have died within this past year, bringing up all kinds of memories. Let's just say Jack's parents weren't the warmest
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recent-reads
While I haven't read tons by Russo, I definitely will count on any of his books to engage me. He is able to make small moments so important. I marvel at how the thread unravels. This deals with a couple attending two different weddings. They have been married for over thirty years. But this is Russo, so you know there's way more going on here. Another great story from a gifted writer.
Mar 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: march-2013
This was my first novel by Mr Russo and I did enjoy the oft told tale of a marriage that has soured over the years and the impact one's parents have on what you yourself become. It was a quick read and had a number of characters who were both likeable, but oftentimes seemed a bit whiny. I felt the end of the book was better than the beginning and particularly enjoyed the main character's talks with both his deceased mother and father which by the way, he carried (their ashes), around in the trun ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What could be wrong with this book? The writing is very good, as one would expect from Richard Russo. The plot is barely there, but that isn’t an issue. The characters are vivid—and that’s the problem. Nearly to a man (or woman), the characters are unlikable, and they are so vividly drawn that the reader feels like they’re jumping off the page—unfortunately, because these are not characters with whom you’d ever want to interact in real life.

The protagonist is Jack, whose parents are so nasty, a
A sweet and sardonic parable about how finding happiness in life is challenged by the continual collision of past and future with the present. Jack Griffin is happy in his marriage, his home in Connecticut, the transition of his career as a Hollywood scriptwriter to a college teaching post, and his thriving daughter. In the course of the novel, as we move backward and forward in time, all these foundations of his life are threatened. At the beginning, his return to Cape Cod to attend a wedding o ...more
Aug 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Richard Russo. This is my 3rd Russo read in a year, and I'm hooked. That Old Cape Magic is wise and very funny. Spoken in first person, we really get inside the skin of Jack Griffen, learning to empathize with all his baggage around his parents and how their stormy relationship and vacations in Cape Cod gets him stuck in behaviors that even he doesn't like, but can't change. The writing comes from a mature and knowing place that looks at people and loves them despite in spite of their wea ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
No one does human nastiness better than Richard Russo. Empire Falls was one of the best books I ever read. Terrific. That was small town nastiness. This one is Cape Cod nastiness. So there was a bit of deja vu.

These people were the kind of people that think God made Cape Cod just for them. The kind that get rid of the natural pine needle yards and plant green grass with just enough fertilizer and pesticide to poison their own groundwater. The kind that Trump voters complain about being elitist.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it liked it
mid life crisis precipitated by protagonist's daughter's engagement and his father's death
struggle with purpose and longing to return from academic backwaters to screen writing
tries to reconcile his parents' disinterest in him as a child with fractious relationship with mother now

(view spoiler)

does pick up pace and holds my interest in the second half

my first read from Richard Russo, mi
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Russo has the knack of just skewering pretentious academics and he is at his best here. I just loved this book and have re-read it a couple of times
Anderson's Bookshops
Sally said: "This Russo book is a funny, poignant look at a man's mid-life crisis as he travels Cape Cod and his memories. Like the author's Straight Man, this is a light, amusing story that will be sure to please his fans. The main character is carrying around...more This Russo book is a funny, poignant look at a man's mid-life crisis as he travels Cape Cod and his memories. Like the author's Straight Man, this is a light, amusing story that will be sure to please his fans. The main character i ...more
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Really disappointing. I was initially drawn to this book by the cover, actually, though I was totally unaware that there were reading instructions thereon. This is definitely beach reading, and unfortunately little more. Russo tells a great story, and most of his characters are fully formed and interesting. But he holds the reader's hand the entire way, pointing out the important bits, telling him/her everything he/she needs to know, so that as a reader, you're sitting in the passenger seat the ...more
What stood out for me was that the sense of place triggered the character's childhood memories, and as he relived these memories partially by seeking out the exact locales, his adult brain interpreted the memory completely differently, which is what provoked his current distress. Even when he wrote the short story in his younger years, he wrote it based on his memory as a child, and when he came back to the location with his years of emotional growth, the realization hit him that maybe that's no ...more
Sep 20, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, here's middle age disappointment at its best. Jack Griffin is disappointed with his life--his job, his marriage, where he lives, etc. And now he finds himself on the way to Cape Cod to a wedding. The very Cape Cod where he and his parents vacationed every summer while he was a child. Oh, and by the way, he's carrying his father's ashes in the trunk of his car. Those ashes have been in his trunk for over a year. And his mother is calling him repeatedly on his cell phone, giving him orders a ...more
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Even though I have a lot bad to say about this book, our book club had a very good discussion about it. Turned out there was just a lot to say. Early on, I thought the author was taking sort of a dour, pessimistic attitude toward families, marriage, education, and life in general. I hoped there would eventually be some lovely moment to hold on to, or some tenderness in at least one of these dysfunctional relationships, but even at the end it was completely unromantic and unsentimental. Nothing. ...more
Another reviewer said it best, it was "thin"--would have been a great short story, but the second half really seemed lacking in substance and details. (copied review) The book's two-part structure is simple and elegant: two weddings, a year apart, the first on Cape Cod, the second in Maine. Russo's focus in both parts is on Jack Griffin, a 57-year-old English professor who's having a "middle-age meltdown." Even while the wedding march plays for members of the younger generation, he's busy fumbli ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Set in Cape Cod, California, and Maine rather than upstate New York, That Old Cape Magic is smaller in scope than Russo's previous novels but nonetheless contains Russo's trademark psychological complexity. While reviewers disagreed about the novel's overall success, they concurred that Griffin's quarrelsome, bitter parents -- whom Griffin can't seem to shed -- steal the show. Another favorite was the story within a story called "The Summer of the Brownings," about Griffin's childhood friendship ...more
Perhaps someone can convince me that this book is worth completing. As I reached page 55, I asked myself why I was continuing, since I was unable to find any redeeming factors to lure me back. The characters are unappealing to me, which would be alright if their actions were of interest. They all seem to be making the wrong decisions repetitively and continue to mar their relationships. In comparison to Ruth Rendell's, Thirteen Steps Down, which I recently completed, her characters, while certai ...more
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RICHARD RUSSO is the author of seven previous novels; two collections of stories; and Elsewhere, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody’s Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries.
More about Richard Russo
“He'd discovered that his memories of that summer were like bad movie montages - young lovers tossing a Frisbee in the park, sharing a melting ice-cream cone, bicycling along the river, laughing, talking, kissing, a sappy score drowning out the dialogue because the screenwriter had no idea what these two people might say to each other.” 6 likes
“Stories worked much the same way…A false note at the beginning was much more costly than one nearer the end because early errors were part of the foundation.” 5 likes
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