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Monday, January 24, 2011

That Old Cape Magic has none of the Russo magic

Harsh title for this review, but I did read Russo's Cape Magic recently and I am a huge fan but I just fell off the bus. Richard Russo gave all writers permission to write about middleaged life with broken down white males in the throes of crisis. Failed White Men novels let's call then and Russo was a pioneer with Straight Man, Nobodies Fool, and Empire Falls which were superb books of men who lost their way and find redemption through the familial relationships they had previously trashed. But more than that these books were funny and dead on.

When I first read Russo I felt like I had found a missing puzzle piece to the young writers I had grown up on, McInerny, Franzen, Wallace, and the older writers like Ford and McCormack. Then I read Russo and he was writing about men who did the wrong thing and could still be redeemed as characters and as people. And he was a very good writer during these comical journeys. So I read his earlier books Mohawk and The Risk Pool. Good, but he hadn't moved into what I considered the Russo vein of his Failed White Man novels.

I did not make it though Bridge of Sighs. To me the book just died with the flashbacks and at the same time the flashbacks had the only Russo magic. But the narrative seemed thin and not substantial. So I grabbed the paperback of That Old Cape Magic. It is a Failed White Man novel but unfortunately it is a retread. It is Grady Tripp of Straight Man and Sully of Nobodies Fool, but his main character Griffin doesn't hold a candle to those earlier characters in depth or complexity. Griffin is a man in trouble in his marriage attending his daughters weddings with the ashes of his parents in his trunk. All very Russoesque.

But there it ends. Griffins convolutions are told like a grandfather might tell a story. There is restraint and I understand why. Russo's daughters did get married and it seemed  the marriage problems and concommitent problems have been sanitized. There was something lacking and that is, strangely; originality. That Old Cape Magic it turns out is  just warmed over Russo.

I admire the writer and I will always reach for Russo's latest. But leftovers have never tasted as good as the original dish.

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Books by William Hazelgrove