That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape Magic

by Richard Russo


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For Griffin, all paths, all memories, converge at Cape Cod.  The Cape is where he took his childhood summer vacations, where he and his wife, Joy, honeymooned, where they decided he’d leave his LA screenwriting job to become a college professor, and where they celebrated the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. But when their beloved Laura’s wedding takes place a year later, Griffin is caught between chauffeuring his mother’s and father’s ashes in two urns and contending with Joy and her large, unruly family. Both he and she have also brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?
By turns hilarious, rueful, and uplifting, That Old Cape Magic is a profoundly involving novel about marriage, family, and all the other ties that bind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400030910
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 351,980
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Richard Russo lives with his wife in Camden, Maine, and in Boston. In 2002 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls.


Gloversville, New York

Date of Birth:

July 15, 1949

Place of Birth:

Johnstown, New York


B.A., University of Arizona, 1967; Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1979; M.F.A., University of Arizona, 1980

Read an Excerpt

IA Finer PlaceThough the digital clock on the bedside table in his hotel room read 5:17, Jack Griffin, suddenly wide awake, knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. He’d allowed himself to drift off too early the night before. On the heels of wakefulness came an unpleasant realization, that what he hadn’t wanted to admit yesterday, even to himself, was now all too clear in the solitary, predawn dark. He should have swallowed his petulance and waited the extra day for Joy.It had been their long- established habit to flee the campus as soon as Griffin taught his last class. Usually, they hopped on the Freedom Trail (his term for I- 95), drove to New York and treated themselves by checking into a good hotel. During the day he would evaluate his small mountain of student portfolios while Joy shopped or otherwise amused herself, and then, evenings, they’d catch up on movies and go to good restaurants. The whole thing reminded him of the early years of their marriage back in L.A. It cost a small fortune, but there was something about spending money they didn’t really have that made him optimistic about more coming in—which was how it had worked in L.A.—and it got him through the portfolios.This year Kelsey’s Cape Cod wedding had royally screwed up their plans, making New York impractical, though he’d been willing to substitute Boston. But Joy, assuming that thanks to the wedding all the usual bets were off, had messed things up further by schedulingmeetings on the day after his last class. “Just go,” she said when he expressed his annoyance at the way things were working out. “Have a boys’ night out in Boston and I’ll meet you on the Cape.” He’d squinted at this proposal. Didn’t you need more than one to have a boys’ night out? Or had Joy meant it to be singular, one boy celebrating his boyness? Was that how she’d understoodthe phrase all her life, as singular? Joy’s relationship to the English language was not without glitches. She was forever mixing metaphors, claiming that something was “a tough line to hoe.” Row to hoe? Line to walk? Her sisters, Jane and June, were even worse,and when corrected all three would narrow their eyes dangerously and identically. If they’d had a family motto, it would have been You Know Perfectly Well What I Mean.In any event his wife’s suggestion that he go on without her had seemed less than sincere, which was why he decided to call her bluff. “All right,” he said, “that’s what I’ll do,” expecting her to say, Fine, if it means that much to you, I’ll reschedule the meetings. But she hadn’t said that, even when she saw him packing his bag, and so he’d discovered a truth that other men probably knew already— that once you’d packed a bag in front of a woman there was no possibility of unpacking, or of not going and taking the damn bag with you.Worse, Joy, who preferred to watch movies on DVD rather than in a theater, as they were meant to be seen, had given him a list of films he was forbidden to see without her, and of course these were the only ones worth seeing. He’d spent an hour looking through the restaurant guides provided by the hotel, but couldn’t decide on one, or even on what kind of food he wanted. Griffin had no trouble making these sorts of decisions when she was around, but for some reason, when he had only himself to please, he often couldn’t make up his mind. He told himself this was just the result of being married for thirty years, that part of the decision- making process was imagining what his wife would enjoy. Okay, but more and more he found himself stalled, in the middle of whatever room he happened to be standing in, and he realized that this had been, of course, his father’s classic pose. In the end Griffin had ordered room service and watched a crappy made- for- TV movie, the kind he and Tommy, his old partner, had been reduced to writing that last year or two in L.A. before he’d gotten his teaching gig and moved back East with Joy and their daughter, Laura. He’d fallen asleep before the first commercial, confident he could predict not only the movie’s outcome but also half its dialogue.In order not to dwell on yesterday’s mistakes, he decided to put today in motion by calling down to the bell captain for his car. Twenty minutes later, dressed and showered, he’d checked out of his Back Bay hotel. The whole of Boston fit neatly into the rectangle of his rearview mirror, and by the time the Sagamore Bridge, one of two that spanned the Cape Cod Canal, hove into view, the sky was silver in the east, and he felt the last remnants of yesterday’s prevarications begin to lift like the patchy fog he’d been in and out of since leaving the city. The Sagamore arched dramatically upward in the middle, helping to pull the sun over the horizon, and though the air was far too cool, Griffin pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and put the convertible’s top down, feeling truly off the reservation for the first time since leaving home in Connecticut. There was something vaguely thrilling about not being where his wife thought he was. She liked to know what people were up to, and not just him. She called Laura most mornings, her brain still lazy with sleep, to ask “So . . . what’s on the agenda for you today?” She also phoned both of her sisters several times a week and knew that June was having her hair done tomorrow morning and that Jane had put on five new pounds and was starting a diet. She even knew what new folly her idiot twin brothers, Jared and Jason, were engaged in. To Griffin, an only child, such behavior was well over the line that separated the merely inexplicable from the truly perverse.Zipping along Route 6, Griffin realized he was humming “That Old Black Magic,” the song his parents had sung ironically—both university English professors, that’s how they did most things— every time they crossed the Sagamore, substituting Cape for black. When he was growing up, they’d spent part of every summer on the Cape. He could always tell what kind of year it had been, moneywise, by when and where they stayed. One particularly prosperous year they’d rented a small house in Chatham for the month of August. Another year, when faculty salaries were frozen, all they could afford was Sandwich in June. His parents had been less wed to each other than to a shared sense of grievance over being exiled eleven months of every year to the “Mid- fucking- west,” a phrase they didn’t say so much as spit. They had good academic careers, though perhaps not the stellar ones that might have been predicted, given their Ivy League pedigree. Both had grown up in the Rust Belt of western New York State, his mother in suburban Rochester, his father in Buffalo, the children of lower- middle- class, white- collar parents. At Cornell, where they’d both gone on scholarship, they’d met not only each other but also the kind of friends who’d invited them home for holidays in Wellesley and Westchester and for summer vacations in the Hamptons or on the Cape. They told their parents they could earn more money there, which was true, but in fact they’d have done anything to avoid returning to their parents’ depressing upstate homes. At Yale, where they did their graduate work, they came to believe they were destined for research positions at one of the other Ivys, at least until the market for academics headed south and they had to take what they could get—the pickings even slimmer for a couple—and that turned out to be a huge state university in Indiana.Betrayed. That was how they felt. Why go to Cornell, to Yale, if Indiana was your reward? But they’d had little choice but to hunker down and make the best of their wretched timing, so they dove into teaching and research and committee work, hoping to bolster their vitae so that when the academic winds changed they’d be ready. They feared the Princeton and Dartmouth ships had probably sailed for good, but that still left the Swarthmores and Vassars of the world as safe if not terribly exciting havens. This much, at least, was surely their due. And before going up for promotion and tenure (or “promotion and tether,” in their parlance) in the Midfucking-west, they’d each had opportunities—she at Amherst, he at Bowdoin—but never together. So they stayed put in their jobs and their marriage, each terrified, Griffin now suspected, that the other, unshackled, would succeed and escape to the kind of academic post (an endowed chair!) that would complete the misery of the one left behind. To make their unhappy circumstances more tolerable, they had affairs and pretended to be deeply wounded when these came to light. His father had been a genuine serial adulterer, whereas his mother simply refused to lag behind in this or anything else.Of course all of this was adult understanding. As a boy, the reluctant witness to his parents’ myriad quarrels and recriminations, Griffin had imagined that he must be the one keeping them together. It was his mother who eventually disabused him of this bizarre notion. At his and Joy’s wedding reception, actually. But by then they had finally divorced—even spite, apparently, was not eternal—and she’d narrowly won the race to remarry. In an ecumenical mood, she ventured outside the English department for her second husband, a philosopher named Bart, whom she’d quickly dubbed “Bartleby.” At the reception, half in her cups, she’d assured Griffin, “Good heavens, no, it wasn’t you. What kept us together was ‘That Old Cape Magic.’ Remember how we used to sing it every year on the Sagamore?” She then turned to Bartleby. “One glorious month, each summer,” she explained. “Sun. Sand. Water. Gin. Followed by eleven months of misery.” Then back to Griffin. “But that’s about par for most marriages, I think you’ll find.” The I think you’ll find, he understood, was of course meant to suggest that in her view, his own marital arithmetic was likely to be much the same. For a moment it seemed as if Bartleby might offer an observation of his own, but he apparently preferred not to, though he did sigh meaningfully. Griffin was about to respond when his father reappeared with Claudia, his former graduate student and new wife. They’d disappearedbriefly after the ceremony, to quarrel or make love, he had no idea. “I swear to God,” his mother said, “if he buys that child a house on the Cape—and I do mean anywhere on the Cape—I may have to murder him.” Her face brightened at a pleasant thought. “You might actually prove useful,” she told Bartleby, then turned back to Griffin. “Your stepfather collects locked- room murder mysteries. Death by curare, that sort of thing. You can figure something out, can’t you? Just make sure I’m in full view of everyone in the drawing room when the fat cow hits the deck, writhing in excruciating pain.” She knew perfectly well, of course, that Griffin’s father didn’t have the money to buy Claudia (who was more zaftig than fat) or anyone else a house on the Cape, of course. She’d made sure of that by beggaring him in the divorce settlement, but the possibility— what of, that he might purchase a winning Lotto ticket?—still clearly worried her.To Griffin, now fifty- five, roughly the same age his parents had been when he and Joy married, the Cape place- names were stillmagical: Falmouth, Woods Hole, Barnstable, Dennis, Orleans, Harwich. They made a boy of him again and put him in the backseat ofhis parents’ car, where he’d spent much of his boyhood, unbelted, resting his arms on the front seat, trying to hear what they, who never made any attempt to include him in their conversations, were talking about. It wasn’t so much that he was interested in their front- seat conversations as aware that decisions that impacted him were being made up there, and if privy to these hatching plans he might offer an opinion. Unfortunately, the fact that his chin was resting on the seat back seemed to preclude this. Most of what he overheard wasn’t really worth the effort anyway. “Wellfleet,” his mother might say, studying the road atlas. “Why haven’t we ever tried Wellfleet?” By the time Griffin was a high school freshman, which marked the last of their Cape vacations, they’d rented just about everywhere. Each summer, when they handed over the keys at the end of their stay, the rental agent always asked if they wanted to book it for next year, but they always said no, which made Griffin wonder if the perfect spot they were searching for really existed. Perhaps, he concluded, just looking was sufficient in and of itself.While he roamed the beach unattended, full of youthful energy and freedom, his parents spent sunny afternoons lying on the sand with their “guilty pleasures,” books they’d have been embarrassed to admit to their colleagues they’d ever heard of. They were on vacation, they claimed, not just from the Mid- fucking- west but also from the literary canon they’d sworn to uphold. His mother’s taste ran to dark, disturbing thrillers and cynical spy novels. “That,” she would say, turning the book’s last page with evident satisfaction, “was truly twisted.” His father alternated between literary pornography and P. G. Wodehouse, enjoying both thoroughly, as if Naked Lunch and Bertie Wooster Sees It Through were intended as companion pieces. The only thing they both read—indeed, studied as intently as each year’s Modern Language Association job listings—was the real- estate guide. Unwilling to give the other a first look, they always picked up two copies as soon as they arrived and wrote their names on the covers so they’d know which was which and whose fault it was if one got lost. A house here was part of their longrange, two- part plan to escape the Mid- fucking- west. First they would find real jobs back East, where they’d locate a suitable apartment to rent. This would allow them to save money for a house on the Cape, where they’d spend summers and holidays and the occasional long weekend, until of course they retired—early if they could swing it—and lived on there full- time, reading and writing op- eds and, who knew, maybe even trying their hand at a novel.A single day was usually all it took for each of them to plow through the hundreds of listings in the fat real- estate guide and place each into one of two categories—Can’t Afford It or Wouldn’t Have It As a Gift—before tossing the booklet aside in disgust, because everything was more expensive this year than last. But the very next day his father would set Jeeves aside and take another look. “Page twenty- seven,” he’d say, and Griffin’s mother would set down her Ripley and rummage for her copy in the beach bag. “Bear with me, now,” he’d continue. Or, “Some things would have to go right”—meaning a big merit raise or a new university- press book contract—“but . . .” And then he’d explain why a couple of the listings they’d quickly dismissed the day before just maybe could be made to work. Later in the month, on a rainy day, they’d go so far as to look at a house or two at the low end of the Can’t Afford It category, but the realtors always intuited at a glance that Griffin’s parents were just tire kickers. The house they wanted was located in a future only they could see. For people who dealt largely in dreams, his father was fond of observing, realtors were a surprisingly unromantic bunch, like card counters in a Vegas casino.The drive back to the Mid- fucking- west was always brutal, his parents barely speaking to each other, as if suddenly recalling last year’s infidelities, or maybe contemplating whom they’d settle for this year. Sex, if you went by Griffin’s parents, definitely took abackseat to real estate on the passion gauge.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo's rueful story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind.

1. What does Jack Griffin want?

2. In reference to his parents' ongoing but fruitless search for a Cape Cod beach house, Griffin muses, “Perhaps . . . just looking was sufficient in and of itself” (page 9). Is looking enough? Which characters prove or disprove this point of view?

3. One page 16, Griffin points out to his mother that she and his father used to sing “That Old Cape Magic” on the Sagamore Bridge, “as if happiness were a place.” Is it possible for happiness to be a place? Can a place save a relationship?

4. Griffin poses a question to himself: “Why was he more resentful of Harve and Jill, who really wanted to understand how he made his living, than his own parents, who had never, to his knowledge, seen a single film he had anything to do with” (page 49)? Griffin doesn't admit to an answer, but what do you think the answer is?

5. In “The Summer of the Brownings,” young Griffin refuses to spend his last night on the Cape with Peter, even though the decision only serves to hurt everyone. Can you point to other incidents in which Griffin exercises his perverse desire to hurt himself and others?

6. Why is Griffin so apprehensive of commitment? What is he afraid of losing?

7. Griffin notes that “his wife's natural inclination was toward contentment” (page 105). What is Griffin's natural inclination?

8. Is Griffin afraid of being happy? Is being the happy the same as “settling”?

9. How has Griffin's cynicism caused him to misinterpret the intentions of those around him?

10. Why does it take so long for Griffin to dispose of his parents' remains?

11. Why does Griffin feel the need to carry on internal conversations with his mother?

12. How does Griffin's relationship with his parents lead to the dissolution of his marriage to Joy?

13. Why does Griffin insist on staying in L.A., away from Joy?

14. Griffin uneasily considers the parallels between Joy's attachment to himself and Tommy and Laura's attachment to Andy and Sunny. How do these similar triangles play out?

15. This book dances around the concept of responsibility: filial responsibility, marital responsibility, and personal responsibility, to name a few. What do Russo's characters feel about responsibility?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit


The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo's rueful story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind.

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That Old Cape Magic 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 212 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
When Jack Griffin was growing up in New England, he vowed to never follow in the footsteps of his academia parents, both professors. Instead he fled to Los Angeles where he became a screenwriter and ultimately married Joy. Ironically, after his parents die, he and his spouse move east as he accepts a position as a professor of film. As Jack has the urns containing the dust of his parents in his trunk, he looks back at his life wondering is that all there is. He thinks of his honeymoon with Joy at the cape where he demanded they go and a year later to Maine where she demanded they go. He reflects on the marriages of his parents and her parents while pondering whether he needs to call its quits on his. This is an intriguing look at relationships with the emphasis being on marital, parent-adult offspring, and parent adult offspring's spouse. How haunting these combinations can be is accentuated by Jack's inability to spread the ashes. With flashbacks, the audience sees how dynamics change over time due to age and marital status. Although Jack can overkill a poetic soliloquy with a passionate display of motor mouth, fans will appreciate Richard Russell's deep look at relational magic. Harriet Klausner
sarali2 More than 1 year ago
I loved, loved, loved everything about the novel 'That Old Cape Magic.' The characters were so well drawn; the family quirks charming and "laugh out loud" funny. I'm recommending this book to friends as a great read.
WordDoc More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo's fiction may appeal more to mature readers than to those who like bodice-rippers and romans de clef. Its ironic look are modern marriage won't appeal to those who yearn for everything to work out all right in the end. It's far too realistic for that kind of formulaic reader's taste. But it does look without blinking at the capacity of people to live according to their own self-imposed formulas, and to affect the lives of their children and friends with their stubborn refusal to adapt their lives to conditions. Indeed, the stubborn adherence to formulas which reflect their snobbishness is the strongest aspect of the characters whose determined unhappiness makes their actions so interesting that we can no more turn away from them than we can drive past a wreck along the highway without slowing down. There is little escapism in this book for the reader who seeks it. Instead there is a hard look at those who seek to escape from their unhappy lives by denying that they are unhappy. There is plenty to think about in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo wrote a "beach book" this time around. Enjoyable, light, superficial story. I agree with some of the other reviewers that he definitely overused certain phrases - not a lot of originality. Same with a number of the characters, e.g. Joy's twin brothers, Sunny Kim. Just so stereotypical. Wait for the paperback and take it to the beach. It can be read in a day or so. I would give the book a 2.5.
MacZapper More than 1 year ago
While I thought I'd be reading about the Cape, and certainly there were some references to the Cape, most of the book had to do with the mental anguish of the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this could be a really good book - it's about the residue of family on you and being an academic on vacation and marriage - but the author spoils it by repeating stupid catch phrases (the "mid-f**kig west", and dining with Al (al fresco))) he also exaggerates - making the story un-believable (his parents ruining countless rental house - fire and flood) but not comic which would redeem the extremity-I am so disappointed- how many times do I read a review (NPR!!, NYT!) and believe the praise to the degree that I buy a hardcover book. Never-! now the question is whether to finish it--almost toxic to read about people with selfish bad attitudes?
W_Brown More than 1 year ago
It seems that we have to accept the downside of writers having to support themselves by giving creative writing courses. It feels like every protagonist in modern American literature is a middle-class professor nowadays... But this is an artfully constructed book, with one standout comic scene, whihc is the equal of Richard Ford's baseball incident in 'Independence Day' in its ability to distil the poignancy and heart of the entire book. That scene (which involves a wedding, a wheelchair and a ricketty veranda) is worth the cover price on its own!
Betharu More than 1 year ago
I got to the final 20 pages and just wanted it to be over! If you are in to analyzing the thoughts and emotions of characters, this is your book. I found myself craving dialogue! Although the scene with the father-in-law and the hedge was pretty funny! Best part of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Richard Russo's new book. As always he write in a way to keep you interested through out the whole book. It is a great read and a lot of fun.
AndyAC More than 1 year ago
If only I could do anything as well as Richard Russo writes. Once again when reading a book of his, one feels that they know these people and care about them. He writes about real people with their imperfections, their conflicts, their warts and all. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated .... I couldn't put it down and was sorry to see it end. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I laughed out loud at this latest effort of Russo's. It was poignant and brought up so many memories. We're old Cape Codder's ourselves and truly understood the feeling of going over the bridge onto the Cape. His reflections on his parents and his later revelations were so insightful. Loved the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very slow moving in some areas; maybe you have to be a New Englander to fully appreciate.
montana-gal More than 1 year ago
This is very different from other Russo works. At first you are not sure you are liking it, but you get drawn in. I really liked the book, and Russo is always a pleasure to read. There is always a mixture of pathos and humor in his work,and this is no exception. One particular event was the singularly most side-splitting sequence I have ever read. I won't spoil it by saying anything about it.
emmaEW More than 1 year ago
A thoughtful and touching look at parental and marital relationships. A work as much about things said as things left unsaid. A little reminiscent of "Straight Man" as far as the main character. Russo continues to develop deep empathy for his characters as will his readers. Russo seems to have taken a simpler approach than such previous works as "Empire Falls". Less detail about place but very deep insight into relationships as well as some welcome comic relief. A worthwhile read.
thinkingmeat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Richard Russo, and I enjoyed this book, but it was one of his weaker efforts. The story was engaging enough and sometimes amusing; I finished it in no time flat after purchasing it impulsively at a sidewalk book sale. He's very good at capturing the little interactions and phrases that make a relationship or interaction seem real. However, the writing was a bit sloppy. For example, twice within the same extended scene he described the same character as departing "in the general direction" of something, and he misused the phrase "begging the question" not once but three or four times. (I realize I'm a fuddy-duddy on this matter and would be willing to put up with its incorrect usage once in a while from a writer as good as Russo, but reusing the same phrase that many times, even if he had used it correctly, starts to seem tired and stale.) In addition, the ridiculous rehearsal dinner scene near the end of the novel, funny as it was, seemed over the top. Maybe it was intended as comic relief from the heavier emotional material of the rest of the novel, but it came across as overworked and unreal. The beginning of the book seemed better overall, and I got the impression toward the end that he was just winding things up as best he could. As far as I'm concerned, Russo is still worth spending a few hours with, but this is no Empire Falls.
bookscentlover on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
quite the good book, just a great change of pace from the crime novels the days before.just... it's no empire falls. but then, it's a different novel, not so plot focused, not so many characters, but love the mother. on board? what am i, a pirate?
bookczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
ent to me by my cousin. (We often share books -- I like seeing his tastes in literature.)Richard Russo does small towns and college professors well. I've enjoyed some of his books a great deal, while others left me feeling like I'd missed an inside joke (which was proved true when my college professor friends raved how "spot on" he was with life on a university faculty.) This book brushes the outskirts of the faculty world but focuses more on the midlife crisis of the main character, Jack Griffin. Raised by two English professors, who spent more time battling each other than anything else, Griffin finds himself on both an old familiar shore and a totally new one. While visiting Cape Cod, where he and his parents spent every summer of his boyhood, he finds himself suddenly on the shores of an unstable marriage. Griffin muddles through his life and his world, not necessarily doing things right or wrong. He opts for the default answer to the problems that arise in his life -- passively letting events carry him rather than take action. One shouldn't moan if the tides of life carry you where you don't want to go, when you haven't even tried to swim against the current at all.The saving grace in this novel, for me, were Griffin's parents. Their bickering and cynicism, in back story and memory, as well as in the present and in Griff's head, were great. His parents fought constantly, only in harmony when they rode across the bridge to Cape Cod in the summer. (Hence the title of the book, as his mother would even stop in mid argument to sing "That Old Cape magic" as they drove onto the Cape. At the start of the novel, Griff is carrying his father's ashes onto the Cape to scatter them. By the end, he's got his mother's as well, in the other wheel well of his car's trunk. Throughout the book, his parents haunt him -- his dad through the propensity to have automobile accidents and bashes to his car, his mother as the harpy shrew either on the other end of the phone, or in his head after her death. Though not exactly likable, they are terrific characters.I read somewhere that this started out as a short story, based on the scene where Griff is battling with his mother by phone on the side of the road. That, indeed was a great scene (especially the ultimate indiginty delivered by the gull.) I also enjoyed solving the riddle of:Heresto pands pen d asoci al hourin harmles smit hand funl etfri ends hipre ing bej usta ndkin dandevil spe akof no ne.
pak6th on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Griffin and his wife Joy return to Cape Cod for the wedding of his daughter¿s friend Kelsey with the cremated ashes of Griffin¿s father in the car trunk to scatter. But the weekend brings up far too memories of his parents and the tension in his marriage to Joy is too great. When he returns the following year for his daughter Laura¿s wedding and now his mother¿s ashes with his father¿s ashes in the trunk, he is no longer with Joy. Sad and funny¿who hasn¿t imagined hearing their parents talking to them at some point¿Griffin reexamines his life with his parents and with Joy and finds a place of peace
mhgatti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good, quick read. Not Russo's best, but pretty good.
TigerLMS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Griffin is a former Hollywood screen writer turned college professor who watches his thirty year marriage crumble. The story is told over the course of two visits to Cape Cod in a year, bracketed by his daughter's friends wedding and then his own daughter's wedding. But because the Cape is full of lifelong memories of time spent there with his own parents, as well as his wife on their honeymoon, readers revisit significant moments in Griff's past as he tries to retrace where things went so wrong in his life. Griffin's parents are elitist college professors stuck moving from University town to town in the Midwest, and though Griffin is reluctant to admit it, the two have played quite a number on his psyche over the years. Russo tells a good tale that anyone who has been married for any length of time, or divorced, or who has strong-willed parents, will easily relate to. This is a thin book compared to Russo's other offerings, and despite the pain portrayed, it is ultimately a redeeming work worth reading.
mommablogsalot on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There were parts of this book that I liked a lot. His descriptions of the cape and family vacations there brought back a lot of nostalgia for me and had me googling lake house vacations at 3 a.m. But there were other parts of the book (the parts dealing with divorce and unhappy marriages) that felt a lot like being stuck in a room with two people who are fighting and all the good energy just gets sucked out of the room and even though you like those two people seperately, being forced in the same room with them together makes you want to find the happiest person on earth as fast as possible. And unfortunately there were a lot more of those passages than the nostalgic ones and I just couldn¿t finish the thing ¿ too much negative energy.
Gary10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the quirky characters and their ultimate decency. Russo's characters remind me a bit of the Simpsons cartoon characters--selfish, self centered, quirky but ultimately the pull together to form the semblance at least of a family. The book seems more like a series of encounters and accounts than a coherent novel. It kept feeling like it was being set up but the set up lasts for the entire length of the book. At some level there is a bit of a catharsis in that the main character eventually seems (kind of) to come to terms with the passing of both of his parents. But if this is the main reason for his strange melt down, it is never totally clear. The main character just seems to wander from point to point without a clear game plan. And there is little reason to think at the end of the book that this character trait has changed much. This wandering characteristic made me wonder how the guy was as successful as he appeared to be--at least up to the year described in the book. I found this ongoing angst without a clear reason for it a bit off putting. But then, maybe that is just the way life works. Despite the fact that I didnt find this fitting together very well in terms of a unified whole, nonetheless, the author has an incredible knack for structuring flawed but ultimately human characters that are totally recognizable.
pamjw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A tale of two weddings. The story begins with Joy and Griffin at the wedding of their daughter's friend. AT the second wedding, the following year, things have changed.Throughout it all, Griffin is hounded by the voice of his parents - who his has spent his whole life trying not to become.The first and last parts are a good enough story, but somewhere round the middle it gets lost and difficult to work out what's happening.
bookfest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Russo always writes about relationships. In this case, it is as much about Jack's relationship to his parents as it is about his struggles within his marriage. With Russo, relationships are never what they seem on the surface.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Griffin goes to weddings, loves his wife, is estranged from his wife, carries his parents¿ ashes in the trunk of his car, and longs to visit the Cape again.That¿s the whole book. I hope I didn¿t give anything away.A long, long section in the middle that dragged so much I wanted to put the book down. But the last third of the book picked up and the story zoomed to the end.