New Russo novel is not only hilarious but is a book to cherish

2009-11-18 00:00


That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo

Chatto & Windus

THERE are few bigger treats than a new novel by Richard Russo. From the start of That Old Cape Magic the reader is drawn into Russo’s humanity and the ironic, tender wit with which he describes the disappointed hopes, the foolish mistakes and ­fundamental decencies of his characters — the things that make his writing such a delight.

The novel is neatly crafted into two parts. In the first, Jack and Joy ­Griffin have travelled to Cape Cod to be guests at the wedding of their daughter’s old school friend. But the cracks in their own 30-year-old marriage are beginning to show, some undoubtedly caused by Jack’s relationship with his own parents, now reduced to the urn containing his ­father’s ashes that is lurking in the boot of his car and a series of inconvenient, eccentric and unwelcome phone calls from his inconvenient and eccentric mother. Russo takes the reader back to Jack’s childhood with its annual Cape Cod holidays and to one in particular where Jack began to realise the possibilities of other families and lives lived in other ways.

A year later, in the second part of the novel, Jack and Joy are again on the Cape, this time for their own daughter’s wedding. But they are no longer together, and Jack’s mother’s ashes are now at the other side of the boot. The events that lie between the two weddings are told in retrospect.

This second nuptial is always going to be complicated, and in the hands of the master it is also hilariously funny. I don’t want to spoil the treat for other Russo fans, new and old, but this book is one to cherish. For me, Russo holds comparison with David Lodge, writing on the ­other side of the Atlantic. Both writers can be comic and humane in equal measure, creating wonderfully flawed characters and forgiving them their sins. And their books are pure heaven.

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