Review: That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Author: Richard Russo
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Source: Personal Copy
Russo's 8th novel succeeded in providing a structure that presented the "flashback" device in a different way than a lot of authors' attempts. I also found the jumps from present, to past, and back flowed quite well as did the revelation of information. Russo did a good job of pacing the introduction of characters and not going into lengthy asides to give an entire background. A good example is Bart, a character that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter. Bart's characteristics, like his choice to abstain from talking, are revealed at later intervals in the story instead of abruptly straying from the narrative at hand. Based on Griffin's assessment of himself as being focused on continuity and "the characters' gestures and dialogue, the smaller moment-to-moment truths of story and daily life, the tiny burrs under the narrative saddle" the character comes across as a semi-autobiographical portrait.
In the end, I think the mediocrity of this novel comes not from the writing style, but more from the things left unfinished. Creating a sense of place is imperative to effectively telling a story, and I feel that Russo fell short of developing a rich supporting character out of his Cape Cod setting. Don't get me wrong; I can tell that a lot of research was put into the geography, but I didn't feel that Russo's effort was fully realized the way it was written. Take out the proper place names, and it could have been anywhere else, which doesn't bode well for a novel that aims to convey "the Cape's allure." The secondary characters, except for Griffin's daughter, Laura, did not feel as developed as in previous Russo novels, and the attempts at humor (carrying around an urn of ashes) fell flat. However, despite these negatives, I still enjoyed this quick and straightforward novel and will be looking forward to his future works. I would recommend this book if you are interested in a character study of a marriage, or if you are a fan of his older works, such as Empire Falls.