Reviews for That Old Cape Magic

Booklist Reviews 2009 July #1
As Jack Griffin drives up to Cape Cod for a wedding, he is assailed by memories of his past, for not only is the cape the site of his childhood summer vacations with his embittered parents, it is also the place where he honeymooned with his wife, Joy, some 30 years prior. Their marriage has hit a rough patch, which is particularly painful for Jack, since he long ago vowed to keep his marriage free from the rancor that marked his parents' relationship. And yet his parents, failed academics consigned to the "Mid-fucking-west," are very much with him, since his father's ashes are in the trunk of his car, and his mother is constantly on his cell phone, still hectoring him with acerbic advice. In the turbulent year that follows, Jack must face the fact that he may have inherited his parents' endless yearning for a better life. In this wryly funny, introspective novel, Russo eschews the broad social canvas and small-town milieu that have been mainstays of his work. The scope may be narrow, but the result is an impressively expansive analysis of familial dynamics between not only spouses but also in-laws, parents, and children. Russo is writing in a lower key here than in his two previous prizewinning novels, but it's Russo all the same, and his many fans are sure to savor the journey. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 July #1
A change of pace from Pulitzer-winning author Russo (Bridge of Sighs, 2007, etc.).In contrast to his acclaimed novels about dying towns in the Northeast, the author's slapstick satire of academia (Straight Man, 1997) previously seemed like an anomaly. Now it has a companion of sorts, though Russo can't seem to decide whether his protagonist is comic or tragic. Maybe both. The son of two professors who were unhappy with each other and their lot in life, Jack Griffin vowed not to follow in their footsteps, instead becoming a hack screenwriter in Los Angeles. Then he leaves that career to become a cinema professor and moves back East with his wife Joy. Most of the novel takes place during two weddings a year apart: one on Cape Cod, where Jack had endured annual summer vacations and convinced Joy to spend their honeymoon; the other in Maine, where Joy had wanted to honeymoon. Plenty of flashbacks concerning the families of each spouse seem on the surface to present very different models for marriage, and there is an account of the year between the weddings that shows their relationship changing significantly. It isn't enough that Jack feels trapped by his familial past; he carries his parents' ashes in his trunk, can't bear to scatter them and carries on conversations with his late mother that eventually become audible. Will Jack and Joy be able to sustain their marriage? Will their daughter succumb to the fate of her parents, just as Jack and Joy have? Observes Jack, "Late middle age, he was coming to understand, was a time of life when everything was predictable and yet somehow you failed to see any of it coming." Readable, as always with this agreeable and gifted author.First printing of 200,000. Author tour to Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, New England, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Maine, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 July #1
Jack Griffin revisits Cape Cod, even as his own family undergoes a few tremors. I could barely put this down before finally relinquishing it to my reviewer. With an eight- to ten-city tour; reading group guide. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 August #1

Joy and Jack Griffin head to Cape Cod to attend a friend's wedding, where their daughter Laura announces her own engagement. Sensing the malaise in their 30-year marriage, the Griffins decide to reconnect by visiting the B & B where they once honeymooned. Their arrival in separate vehicles seems symbolic of the discord in their hearts and minds. Jack, still coming to terms with his father's death and bristling at his mother's constant criticism, feels restless in his career as a college professor, wondering whether he should have left a lucrative screenwriting gig in L.A. Joy, chafing at Jack's implicit displeasure with her sunny disposition and maddening family, longs for an empathetic listener. Russo lovingly explores the deceptive nature of memory as each exquisitely drawn character attempts to deconstruct the family myths that inform their relationships. VERDICT The Griffins may not find magic on old Cape Cod, but readers will. Those who savored Russo's long, languid novels (e.g., Pulitzer winner Empire Falls) may be surprised by this one's rapid pace, but Russo's familiar compassion for the vicissitudes of the human condition shines through. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]--Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL

[Page 74]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 June #5

Crafting a dense, flashback-filled narrative that stutters across two summer outings to New England (and as many weddings), Russo (Empire Falls) convincingly depicts a life coming apart at the seams, but the effort falls short of the literary magic that earned him a Pulitzer. A professor in his 50s who aches to go back to screenwriting, Jack Griffin struggles to divest himself of his parents. Lugging around, first, his father's, then both his parents' urns in the trunk of his convertible, he hopes to find an appropriate spot to scatter their ashes while juggling family commitments--his daughter's wedding, a separation from his wife. Indeed, his parents--especially his mother, who calls her son incessantly before he starts hearing her from beyond the grave--occupy the narrative like capricious ghosts, and Griffin inherits "the worst attributes of both." Though Russo can write gorgeous sentences and some situations are amazingly rendered--Griffin wading into the surf to try to scatter his father's ashes, his wheelchair-bound father-in-law plummeting off a ramp and into a yew--the navel-gazing interior monologues that constitute much of the novel lack the punch of Russo's earlier work. (Aug.)

[Page 106]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.