I've just joined an online group called The Sunday Salon as indicated in the title of this post. The idea is to post your book reviews each Sunday and everyone in the group will be able to read them. So here's my first of many reviews for this group.
LOOKING FOR THAT HAPPY PLACE
I would like to think of Russo as being one of my favorite authors but don't feel qualified to make that statement since this is only the third book I've read by him....Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs being the other two. But I will say that I've loved all three and look forward to going back and reading some of his earlier works. So when writing this review, I'm not sure if his writing style has changed or if he has, in fact, gotten better. All I know is that I think he's a great storyteller and That Old Cape Magic keeps proving that point over and over.
I've been so looking forward to August '09 because there were four books coming out that I've been eager to read....South of Broad by Pat Conroy, Rules of Vegeance by Christopher Reich, The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. I thought I'd start out with the Russo book and right off the bat I've hit a home run. I loved it!!!!!
There are many authors out there who write stories with very little dialogue and, most times, they are not my favorite books simply because the author's storytelling capabilities aren't good enough to pull this off. In Russo's book, I didn't care if the characters said one word to each other because the story he was telling was just so interesting that I failed to notice the lack of discourse.
And boy does Russo love his bridges. I've only read three of Russo's books but each one prominently mentions a bridge. In Empire Falls, it was the Iron Bridge that separated the mansion of the Whiting's from the rest of blue collar Empire Falls. The Bridge of Sighs is an actual bridge located in Venice and it's the last thing a prisoner walks over before being imprisoned in that famous city. Is Russo trying to tell us something? Do his characters cross over into their own prison of sorts as a penance when crossing these bridges? In this book, the bridge of note is the Sagamore Bridge. It represents two weeks of happiness to Jack Griffin's family as it leads to Cape Cod....their ultimate vacation place and their reprieve from the Mid f'n West as his parents liked to call it.
Russo has so many subplots in this book, one of which is the story of a childhood summer on Cape Cod where young Jack meets young Peter Browning and has the most idyllic two weeks of his life as Peter's family is everything Jack wishes his was and Peter is the friend he always wanted. Four decades later, it is this story (Summer of the Brownings) that Jack is destined to tell and it's something he's had in the works for years but he can never seem to finish it. It makes me wonder if this story (That Old Cape Magic) is also something that Russo has been dying to tell for years and perhaps he too has been sitting on it for a long time.
This is only one of the stories Russo tells. He goes through Jack's life with his academically snobbish parents, Jack's marriage to someone he makes unhappy, Jack's desire to be rid of his parents' influence and, most importantly, his desire for a place to scatter their ashes. This book is chock full of everything an avid reader is looking for. I can't say enough about it.
On a personal note, I really related to the main character in this book being so close in age and experiencing two weeks of bliss each year while on summer vacations with my own family. In my case, it wasn't the Cape, it was Riverhead out near the Hamptons. Taking that car ride from Brooklyn, New York and traveling on Montauk Highway until we finally passed "The Big White Duck" which was, in a sense, our Sagamore Bridge, is something I vividly remember. From that point on, my three brothers and I knew everything was going to be happy. My mother liked my Dad more during those two weeks of the year and even thought her four kids weren't too much of a burden.
Russo talks about happiness perhaps being "a place". This gave me some food for thought because I clearly could relate to that place (Riverhead) bringing me more happiness as a young child than anything I had ever known. Are we all searching for that happy place? Surely Jack was in That Old Cape Magic. You'll have to read the book to see if Jack finds his "place of happiness".