Book Notes: Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo is, in my opinion, the most talented living American novelist. That Old Cape Magic, however, is one of his least popular novels. Russo is unique in the twenty-first-century American literature in that he writes about the working class. Readers love him for it because nobody else is doing it. That Old Cape Magic is different, though, and I think many readers felt cheated that he’d suddenly publish a book about stuffy college professors who pay for luxury weddings at Cape Cod while bickering about their boring personal lives.

In spite of this change in focus, though, the novel is priceless. The professors are deliciously dysfunctional and their contempt for a lot less dysfunctional Republicans and / or people without graduate degrees is hilarious. I’d also say that this is the deepest of Russo’s novels. It’s about permanence versus fluidity, and what both really mean. It’s about how impossible it is to escape from what our childhood made us be. Funny, sad, and completely absorbing, this is the kind of book that makes me pretend I have something urgent to do and instead sit in the car and read myself into oblivion.

This is true talent, my friends. Russo takes a topic as overdone as a college professor’s belated midlife crisis, and turns it into a gem. A wonderful, wonderful writer.

Everything by Russo is good except for Chances Are… That one was quite disappointing. I highly recommend his memoir Elsewhere because it’s eye-opening.

3 thoughts on “Book Notes: Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic

  1. Clarissa, I’d like to try this author but would rather start with a few of the working-class stories first, since I’ve just read two Franzen books and so have had enough for now of angsty educated liberals. The question is, which Russo would you recommend for starters? Thanks.


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